A Taste of the Real World: Surviving College Without The College Meal Plan!

Part One of Three Part Series

A Taste of the Real World: Surviving College Without The College Meal Plan!

September not only marks the start of the school year it is also Family Meals Month! By this time of the month, kids survived parents taking photos of their “first day” out the door off to school!  As a parent I know all about this monumental event, yet from my experience the older they got the more they turned away from away from the camera.  The one thing my kids didn’t turn away from on the first day of school was their favorite dinner.

This September, I sent my youngest off to college -amazingly his third year- which is different because he is living off campus! Sure, this may be more cause for a parent’s “growing pains” but what made me cringe is that he decided not to take university’s meal plan! Talking with Aimee Orndoff, registered dietitian with Gourmet Dining LLC at Monmouth University, where I also teach, I learned there is about an 80 per cent drop from first year to fourth year students participating in their meal plan! Being a mom and registered dietitian, I did my best. I set an early foundation of good food shopping and of preparing family meals.  Despite this, I really loved THAT college meal plan my son signed-up for the past couple of years.  It was my peace of mind and his (and okay my) insurance because it guaranteed available and accessible meals.  I really should not be concerned. When living home, he liked to cook, even prepared homemade French onion soup.  So I was not surprised to read “millennials connect to kitchen creativity by being more spontaneous” in  “What Millennials Can Teach the Rest of Us About Cooking?” by registered dietitian, Bonnie Taub Dix, an article inspired by her son also living off campus. She continues to cite “58% of millennials spend 15-45 minutes cooking or prepping” from The International Food Information Council Foundation’s 2015 Food & Health Survey ” Bringing basic principles of family meals into college dining should be easy, right?  Yet, even if your mom is a food and nutrition expert, most kids don’t always take mom’s advice!  So I sent a “SOS” to my fellow dietitians for a some of their favorite quick easy recipe ideas. Here’s the scoop from some fellow experts.  I hope you share with your college students living sans a college meal plan!

Home Away from Home: Quick College Meal Tips! 

Get Good Cooking Equipment. Registered Dietitian, Sylvia Thomas White, recommends the George Foreman grill. Her son also in college finds it “so easy to make chicken and vegetables, and just about everything”.  A good non-stick pan also helps. I personally bought and tried both brands of the new ‘copper’ non-stick pans. Cleaning is so easy, I gave one to my son to take with him!

Easy Clean-up with nonstick pans.
        Easy Clean-Up with Non-Stick Pans.

Plan Meals for The Week. Make a list, then go food shopping.  One thing, not to do, is plan your meal as you shop because food costs and empty calories can skyrocket! Editor in Chief of FoodieonCampus and registered dietitian, Faye Berger Mitchell, has a new downloadable one-page food list  for dorm living that I also recommend for those living off campus.

Put "Your" Meal-Plan on the Calendar
    Write “Your” Meal-Plan on the Calendar.

Access College Dining Halls or Food Courts. Aimee Orndorff, Registered Dietitian with Gourmet Dining at Monmouth University encourages all students to take full advantage of the meal plan–especially with a newly renovated dining hall.  Aimee’s favorite is the newly featured Pasta Wok Station which allows students to learn how to cook and create simple egg, rice, and pasta dishes!  Students mix and match ingredients based on their personal preference to create different flavor profiles using a variety of vegetables, lean proteins, herbs and sauces.

Monmouth University's Pasta Wok Station
Monmouth University’s “Pasta-Wok” Station
Pasta Creation: Bow Tie pasta tossed with tomatoes, olives, asparagus, broccoli, olive oil, crushed garlic , red pepper flakes, and grated cheese.
Pasta Creation: Bow Tie Pasta tossed with tomatoes, olives, asparagus, broccoli, olive oil, crushed garlic , red pepper flakes, and grated cheese.
Rice Creation: One Pan Rainbow Fried Rice. This dish uses more ingredients and requires a bit more prep time. Make up a batch on Sunday and you will have leftovers for lunch.
Rice Creation: One Pan Rainbow Fried Rice. This dish from Foodie On Campus uses more ingredients and requires a bit more prep time. Make up a batch on Sunday and you will have leftovers for lunch.

Aimee reminds us many university meal plans are available to fit the needs of both the residential and commuter students, she suggests “students not on the meal plan can grab simple and healthy items such as humus cups, low-fat string cheese, Greek yogurt, and popular nut bars at the Student Center.”

Friends are Family, too! Living off campus usually requires housemates to share living expenses. I realize class schedules can vary, but why not try to take turns making a meal to share with your friends or neighbors? This can help take the pressure off preparing one evening meal.  Pick a time when you, your housemates, and/or friends, will all be around to sit and eat (or cook) together. It doesn’t need to be formal, only enjoyable!

Have Fun. Cook Together! College friends speed up prep time with assembly-line chopping.
Have Fun and Cook Together! College friends speed prep time with assembly line chopping.

Next Part Two:  The College Collection: Creative Recipes from Nutrition Experts

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