A mini rice cooker was not on the list of items I asked for on my 21st birthday. However, I received one from my brother and sister-in-law, who were presumably tired of hearing me complain about the great existential question of our generation: "What should I have for dinner tonight?" 

Before receiving the rice cooker, the first thought to this question was, “I guess whatever the dining hall is serving," or, “I guess I’ll spend $20 on a sandwich somewhere.” These options each have their pros and cons - but during my sophomore year, I really struggled with this decision every night: the dining hall offered me less agency in my dinner options and going out quickly dwindled my bank account. I believed there had to be a better way: as it turns out, there was.

The device stands at about five inches tall and six inches wide, and includes the pot, measuring cup, and plastic spatula. All it requires is a few ingredients of your choosing, an outlet, and a dream - and boy, did I have one. I set to work immediately, experimenting with different dishes: rice and beans, mac and cheese, even chicken noodle soup.

Julia Slaughter

During the week, my roommates and I all have different schedules. We're in and out of our suite like four ships passing in the night and inevitably eat at varying times. However, we decided that, like the cast of Jersey Shore, we’d eat a home-cooked Sunday night dinner every week, courtesy of the mini rice cooker. Last weekend, we put on some old-timey Italian music and made gluten-free pasta with vodka sauce. Despite our “kitchen” space consisting of a corner of our bathroom with a mini fridge, a microwave, and the rice cooker, we were able to make a delicious meal that we enjoyed together on the floor of our suite.

I’m in a place now in my college/young adult life where I’m not quite ready for my own apartment, but I feel as if I’ve outgrown dorm living - in other words, I’m ready to cook my own dinner, but perhaps not ready to pay for utilities. The mini rice cooker has been a great solution to said problem, giving me an easy, inexpensive way to make really tasty food.

Some downsides are that it really is mini, so if you’re planning on making food for more than one or two people, you’ll need to make a couple batches; and, because it’s intended for low-and-slow cooking, you do have to be patient with it (boiling water for pasta can sometimes take up to 20 minutes).

But if you’ve got the time, patience, and ingredients, the possibilities are endless - during the upcoming year, I plan on making oatmeal, homemade tomato soup, and lots and lots more pasta. This student from Duke University even has a recipe for a rice-cooker sponge cake that I badly want to try. 

So while I will inevitably spend plenty more meal swipes and money on food this year, I know I have at least one option that gives me total control of the cooking process and is really fun and easy to use.