Hard times don't mean students have to give up the creature comforts of home when they leave for campus. While these products won't turn college-age cooks into an Iron Chef or a dorm room into a suite at the Plaza, they can provide healthful, tasty food and cleaner, more comfortable living spaces at a very competitive cost. Just be sure to check your college's rules on the types and sizes permitted appliances.
Few dorm-room refrigerators make the grade
Their very name shows how closely they've become identified with college life. But only two refrigerators we tested had freezer sections that were able to keep frozen foods from turning to mush, and all flunked ecology by being energy hogs. Choose the recommended 4.6-cubic-foot Frigidaire FRC05L5D, $150, for frequent frozen-food diners and the 2.5-cubic-foot capacity Sanyo SR-2570M, $130, for just refrigeration.
|Brew N'Go DCM18S|
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Coffeemakers spur study, save money
In our testing, smaller-footprint pod coffeemakers were simple to use and created less mess, but the machines and the pods can be pricey. If your student will make just a cup or two at a time, consider single-cup machines (which brew in a thermal container that can be taken to class) like the Melitta Take2 ME2TM, $25, and Black & Decker Brew'N Go DCM18S, $25. For late-night study sessions, the multiple-cup Michael Graves, $40, Mr. Coffee GBX23, $50 (which includes a built-in grinder), and $90 Emerson CCM901 dual regular-espresso coffeemaker all provide a lot of boost for the buck and scored well in our Ratings.
Microwave ovens: Get with the programmables
The best models now offer convection (which browns and crisps food with circulating heated air, adding a home-cooked touch to foods), while others have sensors that automatically shut off when food is done. Settings for popcorn, oatmeal, and pasta as well as for reheating or defrosting are also handy. Many also boast exaggerated capacity claims, so bring along boxes of your favorite frozen foods to see if they'll fit in the oven. Among our recommended models, the Kenmore 6325, $130, bested the sharp-looking Panasonic Inverter NN-SD697[S] $160, at defrosting.
|NuWave Pro Infrared Oven|
NuWave oven: Worth catching!
Although it's not a conventional microwave oven, the $150 NuWave Pro Infrared Oven takes up about the same amount of space as a microwave atop a countertop. In our tests, it proved excellent at cooking chicken (even frozen chicken came out tasty) and did a decent job on steaks and frozen vegetables.
|Hamilton Beach Set 'N Forget|
Slow cookers for fast-track courses
These can prepare tasty spare ribs, pulled pork and honey chicken wings while students are out at class (many automatically switch to “warm” mode when cooking is done). They can also make cheaper cuts of meat as tender and succulent as pricier ones. In our tests, the $70 Hamilton Beach Set 'N Forget 33967 offered the best combination of features for the money. Other worthy choices include the Rival Crock-Pot SCVC604H-SS, $60, a CR Best Buy.
|T-Fal Avante Elite|
Why a toaster oven trumps a toaster
Few dorm rooms have room for both, so choose a toaster-oven—you lose some toasting performance but can prepare crowd-pleasing whole chickens, pizza or six slices of toast at a time. Our recommended T-Fal Avante Elite, $100, offers convection cooking, a four-position rack, electronic touchpad and removable crumb tray for easy cooking and cleanup. If you want a regular toaster, one capable Proctor Silex Cool-Touch 22203 costs only $15, while the Cuisinart CPT-170, $70, offers added style and performance.
Blenders that make liquids assets
Let's face it, the kids are as likely to brew up post-exam potables as nutritious smoothies and purees. So you want a versatile machine, and the Oster BCBG08, $40, was reasonably capable at a variety of tasks and quiet to boot. Some of our other recommended models double as juicers and food processors, and among food processors, the KitchenAid KFP715[WH], $100, excels in nearly every category except kneading dough—one category that even the neediest student won’t need.
Vacuums: Hip designs might inspire use
Small vacuums, sweepers/brooms, and hand vacuums can keep dorm rooms neat—how to get the kids to use them? Our recommended Bissell Versus 76T8, $80, boasts bright colors and a boomerang-shaped head perfect for tight corners. Another innovative design, the Black & Decker PivotPSV1800 $100, folds up to reach under furniture more easily.
|Target Home 600 TC Cotton Sheets|
Mattresses, sheets and pillow talk
Students need to rest on more than their laurels. Our mattress report found good models and retailers, but many bedsheets we tested ripped, came apart easily, popped off corners, wrinkled easily and had mismatched colors. Stick with our top-scoring L.L.Bean percale, $100, or Home 600 TC cotton sateen sheets from Target, $70. Another heads-up: The $81 polyester Primaloft Deluxe Pillow PM90 beat out feather/down and memory-foam pillows in our tests.
Essential information: You’ll find spirited discussions of many of the products above on our small appliances forum. To raise money for the above items, see our Money section's advice on getting your employer to chip in for college costs, finding the right tax deductions and tax breaks and tapping IRA and other retirement plan money for college costs. Finally, our Auto section includes a handy guide to packing a vehicle for college.
Copyright © 2006-2010 Consumers Union of U.S., Inc. No reproduction, in whole or in part, without written permission.