By Maya Morris

When I first got to college, I spent about two weeks eating exclusively from campus dining locations, and I very quickly became tired of eating the same meals every day.

Then, I began spending my money on fast food, local restaurants, and food delivery services almost every day. The money that I had saved up from my summer part-time job started draining fast, and those $10-$20 meals began adding up.

I decided not to pick up a job when I started college to focus on my studies, but this meant that I no longer had a steady flow of income to feed my fast-food habit. Late-night trips to McDonald’s and Taco Bell were fun, but I eventually realized that this was not sustainable; I needed to find smarter, cheaper, and healthier alternatives to campus dining food that wouldn’t break my bank account or eventually give me a heart attack. Not only was eating out expensive, but I was also consuming many more calories than I typically would on days when I consumed fast food.

According to a study that conducted a cost and calorie analysis of fast-food consumption in college students, “The higher dollar value spent on fast food, the more total calories consumed by college students. Students spent an overall average of $71 and consumed approximately 12,000 calories per month.” This study may not be indicative of the spending and consumption habits of all college students in the U.S., but it certainly rang true for me. In other words, the “freshman 15” certainly got the better of me.

Instead of spending $10-$20 on individual fast food or restaurant meals, I finally began taking trips to the local grocery store to pick up frozen meals and cheap ingredients to whip up my own meals throughout the week. According to a Forbes article on the cost of eating out, “At over $20 per serving on average, a restaurant delivered meal is almost three times as expensive as a meal kit and five times as expensive as cooking at home from scratch.” I am very fortunate to have access to a kitchen in my dorm hall, and I took full advantage of this resource.

I invested in some pots, pans, and kitchen utensils, and I took back control of my finances and my health. I was enrolled in a human nutrition course my first semester of college, and I learned that simple ingredients like eggs, onions, bell peppers, pasta, rice, potatoes, etc. can make delicious meals at a much lower cost. The Forbes article went on to point out that, “Obviously when you cook at home, you’ll spend more time, but you usually end up with a healthier meal because you’re the one to decide what exactly goes into it.” This was very true, and I found myself making much healthier choices when I began consciously shopping for cheap ingredients and whole foods.

Small changes make a big difference; for instance, instead of buying pre-chopped fruits, I opted to just buy the whole fruit and chop it myself. According to CBS News, “A pound of whole pineapple typically costs about $2.75, while one sold cut up averages about $4.28 per pound.” I love fresh fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, apples, oranges, bananas, etc., and buying these in their whole form was much more cost-efficient. I also realized that it’s much cheaper to buy frozen fruits and veggies than to buy them fresh; not only do they last for much longer, but they are also more convenient and less expensive.

Overall, my biggest take away from switching from constant fast-food spending to health-conscious grocery shopping is that basic is better. Cheap ingredients from the local grocery store can sometimes make meals that are even tastier than the $20 meals from local fast-food chains. I still eat out once or twice a month, but it’s typically only a social activity; I feel much healthier and a little richer now that I have kicked my fast-food habit to the curb.