After the first step inside the front door, the poignant scent of cumin and meat overwhelms the senses. Sarah Carpenter, Junior, attempts to pull the braised venison out of her crockpot with a wooden spoon and plastic tongs. She twists her arms around to try to get the utensils at the right angle to grasp the hunk of meat. Just as it seems that she might have it, the game slips and splashes back into the pot.
A small squeal escapes her lips when hot oil splashes over the side and onto her forearm. She rushes to the sink to rinse it off. While cooling her wound, she turns and apologizes, “I’ve never made this before. It might take a little time for it to be ready.”
College students often find themselves with the new task of attempting to provide meals for themselves once they reach a certain grade level. This is an important step in maturity and in gaining independence. Meals do not look the same for every student and they certainly do not look the same as they do when they arrive home for breaks, but deciding how to fill their bodies with energy is a choice that all college students have in common.
1. Shop around for the best deals. Check out Sharp Shopper, especially for bulk items at a discounted price. Red Front posts weekly deals, Walmart will match competitor’s prices, and the local farmer’s market can have low prices on over- abundant produce.
If supporting smaller businesses is a priority, Harrisonburg is full of such businesses. Some include Sharp Shopper, Red Front, and the Harrisonburg Farmers Market. These locations often work with local farmers which keeps costs lower.
Junior Camille Williams recalled her trip to the farmers market. “I was looking at all of the produce and I knew apples were in season so I headed to a cute little stand with lots of apples. I got ten apples for $4! I was so excited.”
2. Share meals with your roommates! Everyone pitching in helps spread out food costs and cuts down on uneaten food going to waste. Come up with a weekly routine that everyone can easily understand.
Ben Bontreger and Kyle Storc, Juniors residing in Hillside, reported that they each make one meal per week and “often shop in pairs.” Nathaniel Freed, a Senior Parkwoods resident, says that he is in charge of cooking for his apartment on Thursdays. Only one person in his apartment goes shopping and then splits the bill for the whole apartment to avoid confusion.
3. Try making foods with your roommates where everyone can pitch in just a few items for the recipe.
Senior Alyssa Cable, from Hillside, explained how each individual in her apartment would be responsible for contributing an item to the meal, such as a few of the ingredients in tacos or stir fry. This makes cooking time their social time since they all eat separately while doing homework because, Cable said, “we are all really busy this semester…and need to multi-task.”
4. Save time on week nights by cooking meals over the weekend to freeze and warm up on weeknights.
Senior Carol Brinkley and Junior Mandy Stowers, from Parkwoods, explain that their parents make and freeze a lot of meals for them to help them fit good food into busy schedules. All they need to do is put it in the microwave or oven and then presto! They have a full meal with protein, vegetables, and a starch. “Since we do not have to deal with cooking on weeknights,” Brinkley reflects, “it gives us more time to get homework done so we can relax sooner.”
5. Look for alternative means of acquiring food like dumpster diving, helping in the EMU community garden, or hanging out at the Den around closing time.
Emily Wise, Senior, says, “I like doing homework at the Den at night so that I do not have the distraction of being in my room and so I can grab some extra pizza if they have some left.”
Isaac King, Junior, described a dumpster diving expedition he took part in saying, “It was over Thanksgiving break and not many people were on campus. We found a turkey that was still mostly frozen and ended up having it for Thanksgiving dinner.”
6. Many campus events provide snacks, or even full meals, as an incentive for students to come. These events, such as Late Night in the Commons, holiday potlucks, or the international dinner, provide excellent opportunities to fill your stomach while getting to meet new people. And most of them are free!
This year, Parkwoods hosted a pot-luck style cook-out, a pancake night, and a hot cocoa and game night. Even during required orientation meetings, Matt Hunsberger, Parkwoods RD, provided snacks to munch on during group discussion. Hunsberger says, “I think including food is a sign of hospitality. We’re used to socializing around food, so serving food gives people a reason to get together and talk with each other.” One event was co-hosted by both apartment buildings called “Guess Who’s Coming for Dinner.” Apartments signed up to host a meal or to bring dessert to another apartment. Activities such as these are excellent times to meet new people while getting to try other people’s recipes.
Be on the lookout for upcoming Christmas gatherings. Hosts cannot help showing off their signature Christmas cookie recipes.
7. Stick to foods that you know how to make on weeknights to avoid the stress of not having a meal if you ruin it.
Junior Jenessa Derstine, of Hillside, says that she often snacks throughout the day rather than eating full meals, eating salads and noodles with parmesan cheese. Kara Stutzman, Senior Parkwoods resident, says that she eats a lot of soup and quesadillas. Freed states that his apartment eats “simple and easy meals” such as casseroles and soups.
Junior Sonja Anderson recalled the time she tried making chicken parmesan for the first time. “I had found this recipe on Pinterest and thought it sounded easy. I guess I got the times wrong though so they were pretty burnt. In the end we just ended up throwing it all away and making pasta which is not a very encouraging way to start your homework on a school night.”
8. Use mealtimes as a break from your homework, and for quality social time.
This can help you focus on your homework later in the night if you take a solid half hour break. Even if you are not sharing your food, eating at the same time as your friends gives you a chance to take your mind off your work. Having scheduled break time can help you be less tempted to take breaks from homework later in the night to goof off. Brinkley and Stowers reportedly share nearly every dinner together while enjoying TV on the couch. Brinkley is a senior elementary education major and Stowers is a junior nursing major. Each enjoys dinnertime together to take a break from tutoring, clinicals, and field hockey.
Carpenter looks at her roommates expectantly as they take their first bite of her braised venison masterpiece. A look of relief falls over her face as she hears audible moans of joy. Carpenter explains later, “Giving food to people is one of my favorite ways to show that I care about them, so I feel very satisfied when I know that the food I make is making other people happy.”
-Bethany Hench, Contributing Writer