Food Independence

In the whirling hurricanes that can often can describe the daily lives of many college students, it can be easy to overlook a very essential, and seemingly difficult skill in between, school, work, and an array of other activities: shopping for groceries, and cooking at home.

A concerning amount of students are inexperienced at buying groceries at a supermarket or store, and cooking, both with the factor of nutrition, and cost in mind.

As a result of this phenomena, students may resort to less healthy, and often more expensive habits, such as eating out, purchasing more processed food and sometimes not eating at all.

According to an Oregon State University study, it was found that the majority of a 582 student sample size were not even getting one serving of fruits of veggies per day, rather short of the recommended 5 servings per day.

Causes

There are a number of factors that contribute to such habits. Laura Balis, a Nutrition and Food Safety Educator at the University of Wyoming says, “Following the National Dietary guidelines, getting your fruits, veggies, whole grains, and just cooking in general can be pretty difficult for younger adults in this age range.”

Balis also says that simply even finding a starting point to get into healthy and economic habits can be difficult depending on the finances, or even amount of knowledge a student has.

“To me, the most difficult factor is not slipping out, and eating fast food or something, basically just maintaining a consistent schedule.” says Charles Johnson, a senior Theater and Dance major at UW.

Being perhaps a bit more experienced than some students at home cooking, Charles shops about 3-4 times per week, and does one large shopping trip once every two weeks.

Jake Holden, a sophomore religious studies major finds the financial aspect of home cooking to be most difficult, in terms of budgeting for food on a weekly basis, and goes shopping about once per week.

Shopping Smart

Finances can play a big factor in home cooking for many students, especially for those who have to work jobs, and live a rather budgeted life during school. This factor can cause students to again resort to purchasing fast food, microwavable food, and more processed food in general, as well as skipping meals frequently.

However there are resources and habits that can make shopping for groceries cheaper and more efficient. Balis recommends utilizing coupons, as well as purchasing certain products such as canned foods low in sodium, frozen fruits and veggies, as well as food in bulk such as rice and pasta.

What these items have in common is that they are normally not very expensive, and have longer shelf lives in general.

“I usually try to shop super cheaply.” says Charles. “I look for deals at certain stores sometimes, look for coupons in the ad sections of the paper, and I have a Ridley’s card as well.”

Another useful resource, https://www.coupons.com/ allows students to search for coupons in a range of categories, as well as coupons for specific stores, such as Walmart, Ridely’s, Albertson’s, and a wide range of other retailers.

It is also important when shopping for groceries to not do it hungry, a factor that may prompt one to purchase more food than they need, or food that may not be as healthy.

“Its all about making a list, and sticking to it.” says Jake.

Choosing Nutrition

Knowing what products to purchase is just as important as saving money in a home cooking context, buying not only reasonably priced products, but healthy and nutritious ones as well.

Additionally, preparing/cooking nutritious meals may appear as difficult to some in terms of time.

Reading nutrition labels/information on food packaging, and being aware that some claims on packaging may not be entirely true are also considerations students should have, says Balis.

Balis also recommends utilizing MyPlate, a government website, that has excellent resources, such as national dietary guidelines, guides for eating nutritiously and on a budget, recipes, cooking instructions, and organizational tools to help students ace their grocery lists.

“I always try to cover all the bases and get dairy, protein, some canned foods, rice and produce,” says Charles.

To remedy these issues of time and cooking nutritious meals, students can meal prep, a practice that consists of preparing large amounts of food that can be portioned, stored, quickly reheated, and eaten over time.

Charles says he always meal plans before he shops, making a list of items he needs to prepare food for that week, also utilizing his cooking experience he gained from his mother, and cook books to prepare such meals. Charles’ favorite meal to prepare? Chicken frito pie.

“Meal prepping is extremely beneficial, you can do a whole lot of it, store food, freeze food, and reheat it throughout the week.” says Balis.

Meal prepping is just one of the few ways to make home cooking and shopping more accessible to many students who find it difficult, saving funds, and even more precious time, which in itself, is essentially money as well.

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