Fresh and affordable food options

With mealtimes coming between jobs, classes and homework, college students don’t always have time to eat right. Yet, students shouldn’t feel doomed to a diet of cereal and ramen noodles.

It is possible to make healthier choices without depleting paychecks and financial aid funds. Whether through home cooking or choosing healthier restaurants, students can say no to greasy, processed junk food.

Those living on campus looking for a break from typical cafeteria food have a new option. This fall, USF opened a brand new dining hall located near the Campus Recreation Center. Champion’s Choice differs from other cafeterias and restaurants on campus, as it offers a unique menu of healthy and exotic dishes.

The menu changes weekly and the dining hall is split into zones: Comfort, Gold Energy, Green & Fresh and Grille FiftySix. At $8.82, a lunch can consist of items such as Egyptian lentil and vegetable salad. Those looking for omega-3 fatty acids can buy grilled peppered tuna for dinner at $9.76.

Kristina Bianco, a freshman majoring in nursing, said she enjoys its organic sweets, such as frozen yogurt.

“This is the only place that has Froyo, so that’s why we all come,” she said. “Froyo and the homemade peanut butter.”

Others relish the opportunity to eat healthy away from home. Meagan Deslaurier, a senior majoring in psychology, said her kitchen at Castor Hall is too crowded to make healthy meals.

“It’s good to come here and have food that isn’t cooked in oil or salt,” she said while eating a salad at Champion’s Choice. “You can go shopping, but in our hall we have a kitchen for the floor, but you share it amongst 80 people. So it actually makes it hard to eat healthy.”

For those with ample kitchen space, the reality is home cooking saves money. The New York Times published an article last month revealing that it may be more economical to eat in.

A family meal of burgers, fries and soda from McDonald’s can cost about $28, according to the Times. Conversely, a meal of roasted chicken with vegetables, milk and salad can cost about $14.

Processed foods may be quicker and more convenient for a student’s lifestyle, but staff dietitian for Student Health Services Katie Jones said eating healthy, home-cooked meals is possible with planning and a little patience.

“It helps to plan out meals for the week. Make a list and stick to just the list,” she said. “The amount of money spent weekly purchasing food off the dollar menu at the drive thru adds up quickly and would better be used to purchase groceries to supply food for the week.”

It may not be in a student’s budget to eat all organic foods or shop at pricey whole food stores, but Jones offered some advice to those interested in cutting back on eating out.

“Purchase frozen fruits and vegetables rather than fresh or visit a local farmers market for discounted fresh produce,” she said. “Substitute water for sweetened beverages. It’s free and cuts back on excessive sugar amounts provided from liquids.”

Not all food comes from a store. Students who have some free time can grow their own fruits and vegetables with a student plot at the USF Botanical Gardens.

Another option is joining Sweetwater Community Farms in Tampa – where members who pay a seasonal fee receive a weekly share of the organic crop during harvest season. Though memberships are sold out for this season, those hoping to apply next year can join a waiting list.

Programs and initiatives to support healthy diets have been spreading across the nation. Another Times article, published earlier this year, said policymakers have banned new fast food restaurants from South Los Angeles, which has a high rate of obesity.

Legislation restricting these junk food chains is backed by scientific data showing the habit-forming effects of junk food. A study published by The Scripps Research Institute in 2010 concluded that “the same molecular mechanisms that drive people into drug addiction are behind the compulsion to overeat, pushing people into obesity.”