Food & dining

College students on the challenge of preparing healthy meals

Nicole Banks, a Suffolk University sophomore, and her roommates keep a list on the fridge of groceries they need.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Nicole Banks, a Suffolk University sophomore, and her roommates keep a list on the fridge of groceries they need.

Between essays, exams, and extracurriculars, it’s hard enough for college students to find time to shower, never mind grocery shop, plan, prepare, and cook healthy meals. For most undergrads, it’s not uncommon to be on a regimen of ramen or to have fostered first-name relationships with the delivery drivers at favorite takeouts.

There’s no shame in walking into your local pizza joint and watching the cashier key in your entire order without asking, then seeing someone put your dinner on the grill or in the oven — all before “hello.” OK, maybe there’s a little shame, but over the course of four years, these people can provide you with a sense of home away from home.

So, let’s consider the options: The dining hall (that means you bought all or part of a meal plan), your own cooking, buying prepared foods, finding a food truck. A dining hall is never an adequate substitute for mom’s home cooking. As for making it yourself, it takes time and patience to get into a personal culinary groove (some of us, even after three years on our own, still haven’t gotten the hang of it). Here’s what students from local colleges are buying and eating.


Northeastern University junior


Meal plan I use Northeastern’s Profiler Plan, which is 50 meals a semester. It works because I don’t always have time to cook during the week. If I have a lot of homework one night, I can just stop in a dining hall. I do prefer cooking my own meals, though. It’s much healthier.

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Brought from home I’m an international student and I came here from Chile, so I couldn’t really bring much food with me. I did bring along my pots and pans.

Cooking I cook at least three times a week. It will be a large meal that lasts me a few days, usually simple meals like chicken or pork with rice or mashed potatoes and some salad. I keep things frozen or in the fridge until I need to heat it up. It’s harder with fresh produce since you need to eat it quickly.

Always in stock Pasta, tomato sauce, cereal, milk.


Northeastern University junior

Meal plan I am on the 5-meal plan. I usually go every day to the dining hall. They’re pretty good, there’s always variety, and there are three big dining halls plus the student center, where they have salads and Taco Bell and all sorts of food.


Culinary routines I usually have lunch with my friends in one of the dining halls. We always meet there, spend some time, and eat before we go to class. I rarely ever cook. I usually order food during the weekends or go out to eat with friends.

Couldn’t live without Our coffee machine. Can’t wake up without coffee in the morning.

Brought from home I didn’t bring any appliances because our apartment had most of the basics (fridge, microwave, etc.) but my roommates and I did buy a blender and I am considering buying a waffle maker.


Boston University junior

Meal plan I’m on a meal plan with 250 meals a semester and 500 to 600 university dollars. You can use them at the George Sherman Union (there’s a Starbucks in there), and at City Convenience stores. I’d say I only eat at the dining hall once every other day. I’m most definitely wasting meals. For the kind of dorm I live in, the university requires me to use this plan. I really should be on the apartment meal plan, which is 90 or so meals, but I can’t, so I’m wasting money. I’m a vegetarian and lactose-intolerant, so there’s not a lot for me to eat. I might get some sides of veggies, make a salad, or soup; my weakness is the tomato vegetable.

Culinary routines I usually grocery shop on Mondays because there’s not a lot of people there. I also help my best friend shop twice a week. She spends too much and doesn’t buy what she needs. I don’t know what happens to her when she goes grocery shopping. She falls apart.


Couldn’t live without Hummus, definitely, with either pretzel chips or baby carrots. And my microwave; I use it more or less every day.

Always stocked I have frozen veggies that I keep on hand at all times. I like having Keebler Club & Cheddar Sandwich Crackers and popcorn for snacks.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Samantha Wood, who works in the dining hall and so gets free meals, keeps fruits and vegetables in her apartment fridge.


Boston University junior

Meal plan Not this year, but I did for the first two years. It was an interesting experience, good and bad. I’m terrible at eating healthy so it was nice to have healthy options in the dining hall. My biggest problem was that I got sick of it after a while. I liked it because money wasn’t an issue. Now, the biggest problem I’m facing is that quality groceries are extraordinarily expensive. They just don’t fit into my budget.

Couldn’t live without The most important things in my kitchen are a box of granola bars and a bunch of bananas to eat on the go. I don’t spend much time in my apartment and when I’m there I’m either sleeping or working.

Always stocked A bag of frozen chicken cutlets in the freezer. I get 10 meals of protein for like eight bucks.

Culinary routines I’m still trying to settle into one. Being a college student, the school week is always tough so I find it’s easiest to pick up quick things like cereal, oatmeal, and simple lunch sandwiches.

Wendy Maeda/Globe Staff
Wood, pictured eating a bowl of chia pudding, was vegan for a time.


Boston University senior

Meal plan I don’t have one, but I work at the BU dining hall so I get a free meal for working there.

Kitchen appliances I have a full-size blender and a Magic Bullet mini blender. It’s the perfect size to make a smoothie just for yourself. The top cover of it is a glass cup. You can literally drink it right from that.

Couldn’t live without Right now I’m really into chia seeds. Back when I was vegan, the seeds were a good substitute in baking. They’re my go-to. I put them in smoothies, or make chia pudding, which is like a yogurt. They have lots of protein.

Brought from home The day we were moving into our apartment, a couple of roommates went shopping with their parents. My mom was like, “Should we be taking you to the store?” I told her no, I know how to shop. Last summer they brought me and paid. But this time I was like, “I can do this.”

Suzanne Kreiter/Globe staff
Banks would “probably die without” her Keurig coffeemaker .


Suffolk University sophomore

Meal plan At Suffolk, when you’re living in the apartments, you don’t need to have a meal plan. Everyone else on campus has to have a meal plan. I had it last year and it was rough. The food tends to be kind of greasy and high in sodium, and the salad bar gets old fast.

Couldn’t live without I’d probably die without my Keurig coffeemaker. Especially before early morning classes, you need that cup of coffee. Right now we’re using Dunkin’ Donuts Original Blend K-Cup coffee and their hot cocoa K-Cup.

Culinary routines My roommates and I keep a list on the fridge of groceries that we need and we pick things up when we can. It’s kind of our community thing.

Brought from home We bought a lot of nonperishables at home because it was cheaper at places like BJ’s and Costco. I have lots of Goldfish crackers and popcorn, which make good studying snacks.

Katherine Taylor for The Boston Globe
Goodman, a senior at Emerson College, looked inside his lightly stocked refrigerator. Goodman says, “We have a kitchen, I just don’t like to be in it.”


Emerson College senior

Meal plan I actually am on one this year, but I’m too afraid to go alone. You can’t be seen in the “DH” alone. I have been once, last night, but they charged me $5 for a takeout tray. It’s in the fridge and it’s gross now. That food doesn’t keep very well.

Always stocked  Soy sauce, Camp Mix seasoning, and other spices. I really like hot red pepper flakes on a lot of foods.

Brought from home I had a bunch of rice in a bag, I brought that. I feel really guilty throwing away rice, it’s such a staple food product. Also, somebody left a bunch of stuff outside of their apartment that said “free box” and there was a lot of tea and weird stuff which I took.

Culinary routines I don’t really cook, but we want to start trying. We have a kitchen, I just don’t like to be in it. My roommate and I would fight over which take-out places to go to. We never wanted to go to the same place. I like to go to New York Pizza and he likes to go to Maria’s Taqueria for burritos. We cut it out though, so it’s not a ritual anymore.

Interviews were edited and condensed. Steph Hiltz can be reached at