Over the course of my college education experience, I was lucky enough to live in pretty much every possible type of housing situation. I spent a year in a small dorm with a bunk bed and a window the size of a movie poster. I lived in apartments on campus and off. I studied abroad in Italy. I even lived at home during a semester while I worked a co-op job for experiential education credit. With every one of these transitions came a multitude of modifications to my daily routine—forcing me to constantly make accommodations my lifestyle.
No matter where I moved, nothing was more disorienting than deciding what to have for dinner.
Those of you who just arrived for your first semester at school have no doubt heard legends of the “freshman fifteen.”
You laugh at these rumors because you were so active in high school.
You’re confident that you’ll work off the calories during your walks to class.
But those of us who have lived through that first year know that the freshman fifteen is very real.
Left to our own devices (with no one reminding us about the existence of green leafy things and whole grains, or that deep-frying isn’t the only way food can be prepared) most of us are vulnerable to falling into a cycle of greasy comfort food at the dining hall. I know I was. With limited access to a kitchen, and the ongoing struggle to manage classes, studying, socializing, and recreation at the same time, something has to give—and that something is almost always our diets.
Listen, I know that calzones, nachos, burgers, and chicken fingers are delicious. I also understand that they’re all abundantly available from a variety of friendly local vendors within close proximity to your dorm room. And most importantly, I know they are cheap.
Living on a budget creates a limited amount of options, but with a little creativity and mindfulness you can stretch your dollars find tasty and healthy options right in your dining hall—and even at your favorite late-night chicken wing delivery super store. Just remember: that tiny fridge you squeezed into your dorm closet isn’t made exclusively for soda, ice cream, or Hot Pockets®, it has the capacity to hold some fruits and vegetables, too.
For those you on a meal plan, try thinking of the dining hall as a supermarket as much as a restaurant.
Your schedule might have you awake until the wee hours (when the dining hall has long since closed). Instead of dialing up a pizza to fuel your late-night studies, use sealable containers to save food from lunch or dinner that you can store and reheat. It’s also easy to bring a piece of fruit with you to class and snack on it instead of buying a candy bar or chips. There are even a lot of delicious things you can prepare for yourself with common ingredients and limited kitchen resources.
If you feel comfortable preparing food on your own, go for it! Cooking for yourself can allow you to eat delicious food for a fraction of the cost of eating at restaurants. And, while cooking at home for yourself can be enjoyable, remember that preparing meals with others is a great, cheap way to hang out with friends.