Back by reader demand, we have some suggestions for college go-away presents a family or a group of friends can pitch in for. These are great for overcoming those less than edible obstacle; dorm food, junk food and cafeteria food.

We’ve been asked for another Dorm Food article. Ah yes, freshmen moving into their dormitories, all wailing about the food that sucks. We won’t give you lollipops to soothe your pain, but we will give out one suggestion that will help with those bouts of homesickness.

Electric pancake griddles can be real lifesavers. Sometimes you really do need simple carbohydrates for energy, and throwing some pancake batter bought from the store onto the griddle with some dried fruit chopped into it is a good solution. As long as your dorm room’s got an electrical outlet, plug ‘er in, add water to the pancake mix, and don’t leave out the berries!

Dried cranberries, chopped apricots, almond slivers and dried or dessicated coconut flakes can be stored for a long time, and they add much needed flavor without the excess sugar courtesy of maple syrup or spray-on toffee. Just about every griddle comes with a nonstick coating nowadays, but we still suggest using a bit of cooking spray (butter or popcorn flavor is good) to make cleanup less of a chore.

If your friends or parents really think it’s necessary to give you a college go-away present, a pancake griddle is a great long-term investment. Great nutrition, too. Buckwheat or whole wheat pancake mix is widely available for most of our readers. (And you’ll be an instant hit with your dorm mates.)

An alternative idea is to invest in an electric indoor grill. When you add the microwave in the dorm common room to this multi-purpose appliance, you’ve almost got a whole “kitchen”! It may sound strange, but these appliances are also ideal for single people who aren’t living in dorms. It fits right on your countertop, and you can cook meat, vegetables, brown rice, pancakes and toast bread in the same appliance. Since there are tons of models out there with different brand names, we’re not going to mention any specific names but we will give you the features we recommend instead.

– Does it come with a cover?
The cover should be connected by a hinge and there should be grid ‘lines’ and the same non-stick cooking surface as the bottom half of the grill. When the heat source comes from above and below the food, everything will be cooked twice as fast compared to having only one heat source at the bottom. The non-stick grid should also be removable for gentle washing.

– How large is the cooking surface?
If you spread your fingers wide, then place your hands beside each other, the cooking surface should be at least as wide as that, plus half a handspan to make 2 and 1/2 hands in all. Instead of having to keep a close eye on the grill and prepare your meals in batches, you can place all the food on it at once, and turn the heat up or down as needed after removing the cooked foods to your plate.

– And speaking of temperature control, there should be at least three settings, High, Medium and Low, or Temperature settings in Farenheit or Celsius. Meat usually requires the High setting but vegetables will overcooked on the outside and undercooked inside at this temperature setting. The timer, we’ve found, is more annoying than helpful, since the grill and food heat up and cooks so quickly.

– Grills should come with non-stick handles as well as a non-stick pan to catch fat drippings (yes, it *is* possible to have bacon in your dorm on Saturdays!)and liquids.
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These should fit very close to and under the grilling surface so that you won’t accidentally cause an accident while you reach for a pen and your homework nearby.

There are two things you can do with outdoor grills that you shouldn’t try with your indoor grill (unless you really want to set the smoke alarms off):

– Rubbing the grilling surface with small herb flakes, spice powders or chili flakes. This is likely to start a fire. The cookbook most grills come with will tell you this as well.

– Since there’s very little ventilation in the dorm room, we suggest NOT adding whole chilies or other foods to the grill.

Indoor grills should be available near the rice cookers in kitchen gadgets department of a supermarket near you.

We’ve suggested purchasing a crockpot before, but several readers have asked for more details. Here are the features we recommend:

A removable liner
The stoneware pot should have a coated interior and should be removable for ease of cleaning. Watch out because it gets very hot! A 5-quart pot gives you and your dorm mates plenty to share. Crockpots are convenient for students and busy singles because you can put the ingredients in, leave it at a temperature setting, cover it, then forget about it till you get back. By then, your dorm will be filled with the pleasant aroma of dinner waiting for you.

An auto-change temperature setting
Every crockpot comes with Low, Medium and High temperature settings, but the crockpots worth your money also come with an Auto Change setting. With an internal thermometer set at 80 C, the crockpot will automatically lower or increase the heat so the contents of your crockpot are not overcooked
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Bakelite or heat-proof handles
So you can lift the crockpot and put it away in the cupboard or under the bed when you need room for the unbelievably thick textbooks.

Invite your classmates “home” for lunch with this nutritious and filling set-it-and-forget-it recipe (it uses ingredients you can store in your room without a fridge):

Crockpot Back-to-School chunky soup

1 cup macaroni shells
1 cup macaroni elbows
4 hot dogs, cut to chunks
1 teaspoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder or soy sauce
half 1 green pepper, chopped
half 1 red pepper, chopped
2 tomatoes, diced
half of 1 onion, chopped
1 can mushrooms, drained
1 can baby corn, drained
1 pepperoni, diced
2 cups low-sodium broth (chicken, vegetable, beef, or other)
5 tablespoons grated cheese
Place all ingredients in the crockpot and set on low for 3 or 4 hours when you leave for class in the morning, and you’ll have lunch and dinner waiting for you. Garnish with some cheese and dried parsley when ready to serve.