Instead of stopping in Chipotle to grab a quick bite in between classes, College sophomore Kelly Rhodes takes SEPTA to Reading Terminal Market. Rhodes, who is also training for a marathon, tries to buy all her produce and ingredients at Reading Terminal in order to cook healthy meals for herself.
“It’s just routine for me now,” Rhodes said about her uncommon commute downtown. “It’s worth it too,” she said, adding that she prefers the produce downtown to the produce sold at Fresh Grocer.
Despite the challenges of campus life and limited options, many students still try to cook complete and nutritious meals with little time and money.
A kitchen is not enough
Assistant professor of nutrition in the School of Nursing Bart De Jonghe emphasized that there are three factors inhibiting students from cooking well-balanced meals: time, money and resources.
“The most difficult part is not having a kitchen. What’s available on campus is not the best source,” he added.
To College sophomore Alex Casella, Penn housing does not facilitate cooking. In order to make up for this, Casella added to her kitchen in Harrison College House a large baker’s rack with a fold-out cutting board and extra storage space. Despite her addition, she wishes she had a dishwasher and a larger sink.
“You can’t clean anything properly, especially cutting boards,” she said. “I’m not trying to get salmonella.”
College junior Alex Zimmer, who has worked in the kitchen of many restaurants, including Philadelphia’s Marigold Kitchen Restaurant, added that he feels the Fresh Grocer is not the best source for produce and ingredients on campus, although it’s the typical Penn student’s “go-to” place.
Disappointed in the produce selection at Fresh Grocer, Zimmer often goes to Supreme Shop n Bag on 43rd and Walnut streets for his produce or to the Saturday farmer’s market. For freshmen, Zimmer advised grabbing a few of the vegetables on display in the dining halls.
“It’s really frustrating to me,” Cassella said about what’s available on campus. “[Fresh Grocer doesn’t] have a butcher section to speak of.”
However, when she can, Casella does try to look for different ingredients in the Fresh Grocer. “They do have some oddly niche items,” she added. “Especially in their ethnic food aisle, you can find a lot of good stuff.”
Cooking at Home
Despite limited resources, some students do attempt to go beyond a diet of Easy Mac and pasta. In his experience working as a chef, Zimmer was inspired to create original dishes cooking out of his own small kitchen.
“Cooking is one of my passions,” Zimmer said, adding he tries to find the time to execute his meals. “I think it’s easy if you make it easy … I don’t cook the same foods at dinner for myself on a weeknight that I would if I’m trying to cook a crazy, snazzy meal. You can make something in a half an hour that tastes just as good as something that takes you six hours to make.”
Casella also “keeps it simple” on weeknights, settling for interesting pasta sauces and stir-fry. When she has the time, however, she cranks out her own fresh pasta with a pasta-maker she brought from home.
“I don’t need Sweet Green,” Rhodes said about making intricate salads in her “tiny” Rodin kitchen. She chops up fresh produce and chicken on the weekends to save and add to her salads on the weeknights.
“I always tell my friends ‘just choose a weekend when you don’t have a lot of homework and try it, but they — and many people — get intimidated by the idea of cooking for themselves,” Rhodes said.
College sophomore Danny Eisenberg admitted to having a “normal” outlook on cooking in college. However, he and his friends often get together to cook elaborate meals on weekends. “We all go our separate ways in FroGro and pick one ingredient each,” he said. “Then we try to make a meal incorporating all the ingredients we chose.”
The biggest factor for Eisenberg in choosing to cook for himself at home is the ability to “fend for yourself” through cooking meals.
“It’s rewarding,” he added. “When you cook something for yourself it just tastes better.”
While it takes motivation to cook dinner every night, factoring in the nutritional value of what’s on the plate takes an extra step.
“I probably tend toward the Paula Deen side of things,” Casella said describing her cooking. “It’s really easy to not take care of yourself when you’re so busy and have a lot to do … especially when you can’t cook that well. When I’m really stressed it goes by the wayside.”
De Jonghe said he requires students in his Introduction to Nutrition class to keep a food diary for two days cataloguing everything they eat.
“The type of diet that you generally see is high calorie, high saturated fat and low nutrient density, which refers to how many vitamins and minerals you’re getting for every calorie you’re taking in.”
He added that the typical student diet consists of many non-fresh and processed foods as well. High consumption of these foods cannot only lead to weight gain but can be attributed to lack of concentration.
When teaching at night, De Jonhge explained, he can tell when students are hungry because they will stand out as extra tired.
In addition to lethargy, De Jonhge also explained the long-term effects of unhealthy eating.
“If you look at the main dietary related diseases: cardiovascular disease, cancer, obesity and diabetes, chances are your diet during college is not going to be the diet you’re maintaining throughout life,” he said. “These diseases take time … but if you maintained an unhealthy diet as a kid, that’s 20 years … this is a pivotal time to turn that around.”
He also explained that inconsistency in eating habits can be just as dangerous.
“In college life, the chances of each day being similar is very rare,” he said. “It’s easy for college students to not have an eating disorder but disordered eating.” He gave the example of not eating all day and then eating a large dinner late at night.
Rhodes, who routinely cooks healthy meals for herself, added that it is not as difficult to cook healthily as people think. “I often just boil broccoli and steam vegetables … I can splurge on the weekends, but I account for it during the week … it’s all about selective indulgence.”Comments powered by Disqus
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