When college students return to campus every fall, many arrive unsure how to cook for themselves. The summer days of home-cooked meals are over, and students are often left with a small budget to buy groceries for themselves.
Students generally have different priorities when it comes to grocery shopping, and they can find it difficult to make healthy choices.
Ellen Griffiths, a registered and licensed dietitian in Silver Spring, MD, has had her private practice for over 20 years. She believes that before students can do their grocery shopping, they need to know what healthy eating is.
Protein, healthy carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables are all important aspects of a healthy diet, Griffiths said.
Mira Varghese, a sophomore journalism major, sees health as a priority for her grocery shopping. She tries to buy organic and fresh groceries whenever she can, to motivate herself to cook well-balanced meals.
“I’m cooking for myself so I have to put in the extra effort to be healthy. The way you eat affects how you feel. I guess I’d rather pay more for healthy food than just buy anything and not feel good,” Varghese said.
Varghese shops for her groceries at Giant but occasionally uses Peapod Delivery, a grocery delivery service. The ease of getting groceries delivered makes Peapod Delivery a smart choice for her.
Though health is the priority to Varghese, she also knows the importance of cost when grocery shopping. Finding the best price for the food she buys and getting the right amount so she doesn’t throw away food, or have it rot, are habits she is working on.
Emily Conway, a junior kinesiology major and human development minor, puts the price of her groceries over the health benefits.
Conway goes grocery shopping every three weeks and usually gets the items she eats most: pasta, seasonings and meat. She frequents Lidl and Target, as they are both close to her apartment and offer lower prices than other grocery stores, like Whole Foods.
Conway doesn’t always make it a priority to eat a well-balanced diet. Instead, she eats what is in her apartment at the time.
“I don’t make a habit to eat healthy, I make a habit to eat what I have, so that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s gonna be healthy,” Conway said.
There are still healthy options for students who make the price of their groceries the priority. Grocery stores often have sales and farmers markets are a great way to get fruits and vegetables for less than the grocery store price, Griffiths said.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is also a resource that many college students are eligible for, Griffiths said. SNAP “provides nutrition benefits to supplement the food budget of needy families so they can purchase healthy food and move towards self-sufficiency.”
Christopher Chen, a sophomore marketing and operations management & business analytics double major, also makes price a priority for his groceries. As a frequent cook, he shops at Walmart and H Mart for their low prices.
Though price is important to Chen, he still tries to maintain a well-balanced diet, with at least two servings of fruits and vegetables each day.
“I make sure to have every category from the food pyramid on my plate,” Chen said.
Although Chen cooks often, he sometimes forgets about the food items he already has in his kitchen when he is grocery shopping.
“When I go grocery shopping, I buy too many non-perishable items because I don’t realize I have a lot of staples at home,” Chen said.
Chen’s grocery goal for the new school year is to replace non-perishables with fresher options and to limit the amount of food he is buying.
“Sometimes I think just because I have a coupon I should buy something, but that shouldn’t be the case,” Chen said.
Replacing non-perishable items with fresher foods is encouraged, Griffiths said. It is fine to have canned and processed food occasionally, but as dietitians do not yet know the potential long-term damage of consuming processed foods, Griffiths suggests that these foods be consumed in moderation.
Though many college students arrive on campus with a small budget and unsure of how to cook for themselves, making healthy choices in their grocery shopping can be done.
“We are fortunate to have such great equipment that carries us. But we have to treat it right,” said Griffiths.