By Samantha Minnehan
When you think about college food there are a few things that generally come to mind. You might think of Ramen Noodles or Easy Mac. You might also think of endless fastfood and pizza box towers. And if you are living on-campus you’re probably thinking of dining hall food otherwise known as involuntary laxatives. The freshman fifteen didn’t come into existence by coincidence; it is seriously difficult to eat well in college, but it doesn’t have to be impossible.
I’ve had my fair share of Taco Bells five dollar boxes over the last two years of college life and I have narrowed this habitual crap eating down two three issues: time, money, and effort.
Between classes, jobs, clubs and attempts to have a social life there is often too little time to go to the grocery store or cook yourself a decent meal. Healthy takeout food tends to be way more expensive than it’s fast food counterpart, which is just another obstacle for struggling college students who are barely making ends meet. Young adults are not known for being great cooks, for many students this may be the first experience they have cooking for themselves. With the choice between cooking pork for hours or throwing a frozen dinner in the microwave, the ease of the microwave secures the win.
So, in order for college students to eat healthy their meals need to be affordable, easy to cook, and contain ingredients that take a while to expire, so they don’t have to go to the store as often.
For each of the five food groups I found foods that are easy on wallet, gut, and effort.
For protein the obvious choice is chicken because it is cheaper than red meats like steak and also lower in fat. Certain cuts of chicken are more expensive than others. Chicken breasts can be used in many different easy dishes like sandwiches, soups, and hearty pasta dishes. It can be kept fresh in the freezer or even bought frozen, so you can buy it in bulk and don’t have to worry about it spoiling. You may also find canned chicken that is already fully cooked, which saves you time in the kitchen.
Dairy is a little more complicated because the calcium benefits of it can be found in food that is non-dairy. Oat milk takes the win for the healthiest “dairy” product. It is lower in fat than regular milk and can also live in your fridge for a lot longer. Although oats don’t naturally have as many nutrients as dairy milk it is often enriched with vitamin d, calcium, and protein. Oat milk is great for cereal, smoothies and creamy soups.
For fruits and vegetables, frozen is often the way to go. Frozen bagged vegetables and fruits come already peeled and cut which saves you prep time, they are perfect to throw in smoothies or stir fries and can add a healthy and colorful component to any meal. Buying frozen foods and vegetables are slightly more expensive than buying them fresh, but it’ll save you money in the long run when your fresh strawberries get moldy only a day or two after purchasing them.
Lastly are grains, by health standards whole wheat breads and bagels are healthier than white breads which use highly processed flour. To prolong the life of regular bread, keep it in the freezer and defrost upon use. If you don’t want to freeze your bread, but want a grain that won’t go stale as quickly, wheat wraps/ tortillas are your friend, they take much longer to become stale.
College is hard enough, so why not make our lives a little easier by keeping foods that are easy to prepare, versatille, and fuel you with good energy that will help you get through your busy schedule without gaining the dreaded freshman fifteen.
Samantha Minnehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org