food for thought

Food for Thought: Eating Healthy on a College Budget

I’ve finally made the big move from living in on-campus housing to living off-campus. I knew that living off-campus would be pricier in some ways, but what I never expected was how much it would cost just to eat.

My housemates and I recently took a trip to BJ’s Wholesale Club. We filled our cart with an assortment of fruits and vegetables, along with a few other things. As we scanned the items at self-checkout, I didn’t pay much attention to the monotone computer voice listing off the prices of each item we rung up. When it was time to pay, I was in disbelief. $90? I looked over the items we had rung up, and there wasn’t an overabundance of food: trail mix, granola, bananas, yogurt, tomatoes, grapes, green beans, snap peas, kale, raspberries, spinach, blueberries, nuts, broccoli, carrots, quinoa and bell peppers. What did we possibly buy that was so expensive? I thought to myself.

As I looked over at the food we had purchased, it dawned on me that the problem isn’t that food in general is overpriced — it’s that it’s costly to eat healthy. We live in a society where you can purchase six packets of Easy Mac for about $3, but a container of grapes is $6.

Since we were kids, we’ve been told that to be a healthy person, you’re supposed to eat fruits and vegetables and avoid sugar and bad fats. Why, then, do the foods I’m supposed to eat cost more than the ones I’m supposed to avoid? I felt like I was being punished for being healthy, and it wasn’t fair.

The situation made me think of an article I’d read just a few weeks prior, “What I Learned After Taking a Homeless Mother Grocery Shopping” by Brooke McLay. In the article, McLay discusses her experience with taking a homeless mother of two young girls out grocery shopping.

McLay notes that low-income Americans become trapped in a vicious cycle — the food that is cheapest and subsidized by the government is wheat, corn and soy. These crops can be turned into cheap foods, but in turn become highly processed and full of sugar. McLay gave the woman $50 and watched her try to stretch the money as far as she could, which caused the woman to purchase meal-sized foods that were unhealthy over healthy foods that were only as filling as a snack.

Once everything was rung up at the register, McLay pointed out that the only two items that cost more than $5 were fresh produce. The homeless woman couldn’t help but chose the unhealthy, processed foods for her children because they were cheaper and more substantial.

My situation is by no means as drastic and serious as the homeless woman’s, but eating healthy can be a costly commitment over time. I decided I wasn’t going to sacrifice my health just to save a few dollars, but I wanted to figure out a more economical way to eat right without breaking my college student bank. I pondered over the possibilities and came up with a few ideas.

I decided that, as nice as Wegmans is, I cannot make it my everyday go-to shopping store. Its food — and especially its produce — is fantastic and fresh, but it’s also expensive. Wegmans lays out its stores so you’re forced to walk by all the organic foods before later stumbling upon the nonorganic food. This trap causes you to spend more because you don’t see the cheaper foods until after you’ve gotten almost everything on your shopping list. It’s a great place to shop every once in a while, but not for every shopping trip.

Another way to help save is to buy in bulk. This can be easily done at BJ’s Wholesale Club. If you buy in bulk, just make sure you’re able to eat all of the food because you don’t want to buy more than you can eat and end up throwing it away.

Refraining from always purchasing organic foods is another way to save some extra bucks. There are certain foods, such as apples and spinach, that specialists recommend only buying organic in order to avoid high counts of pesticides. For foods that aren’t notorious for containing high counts of pesticides, avoid splurging on organic.

In an ideal world, I’d purchase all of my food organic from Wegmans because I believe that good food is something worth spending money on. But as a college student living in a world where healthy foods cost more than junk foods, that isn’t always plausible. I try to be money-savvy in an attempt to stay healthy on a college budget.

See it in The Brown and White

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