Opinion: Students should pack homemade meals instead of eating out

Whether I’m outside on a bench, in the Graduate Science Research Center or even in the veterans lounge, everywhere I eat I notice one major difference between me and everyone else. I’m eating out of plastic container I brought from home while others are eating out of Styrofoam or paper bags from somewhere on or near campus. 

If I eat in one of these places enough times in a row I will inevitably get the question, "How do you always seem to have something new and delicious to eat?" This is normally asked by the person working through yet another meal from the Russell House cafeteria and with a strong emphasis on "new." The answer is simple. I plan out my week and it really pays off.

An average week sees my partner and I spending about $70 on food at our local grocery store, sometimes up to $80 if we are getting low on things like quick breakfasts, coffee or desserts. That $70 gets three different meals for the week. Within those three meals, two will have distinctly different types of meat, such as chicken and pork, with the third being focused on either rice, bread and is probably vegetarian.

Getting the math out of the way first, that $70 translates to $2.50 per meal after tax (seven lunches and dinners per person per week). Compare this to going to Chick-fil-A or Uncle Maddio’s pizza for example and the savings are anywhere from $3 to $7 every time you have a home-cooked meal. I’ll let you do the math on how much that saves you overall, but I bet by the end of the week you’ll be pretty close to affording something that can make you happy.

In addition to the amount of money that can be saved by cooking your own meals, there is the time as well. Many people believe that they simply do not have the time to cook a week's worth of food. Before the Russell House cafeteria renovations, that may have been true, but only barely and only if you constantly went through the hot line at Chick-fil-A. 

Recently students have been talking about how the wait times for food are longer now since the renovation. Best speeds at meal times are around 15 minutes with an average more along the lines of 25 minutes.

Just a little bit more math again, but I promise it’s the last time. To prepare for my weekly meals I’ll spend about 30 minutes looking through recipes to decide what to eat and then an additional hour to go grocery shopping. After that, it takes about 40 minutes to cook each of the three meals with each yield an average of eight plates. This totals to 210 minutes of prep time and breaks down into nine minutes a meal. The time savings here are huge, although a little more oddly distributed. Still, all the math in the world may not be enough motivation to make the switch to meal prepping.

One the more emotional benefits of cooking for yourself lies in the variety it provides. Eating the same meals or at the same restaurants every day can make meal time seem awfully mundane. Put that on top of the repetition of class and the whole day starts to have very little to look forward to.

Plus, those are restaurants that are just trying to serve as many people as possible, and they may not care what is being put into your body as much as you do. Cooking your own meals puts you in control of how healthy you eat.

In tandem with having control comes a final reason why cooking for yourself is the right choice: confidence. Being able to provide for yourself makes you feel more capable of taking on even more tasks associated with growing up. It brings us one step closer to becoming a self-sufficient adults and a functioning members of society, which is why most of us are in college to begin with.

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