Counting calories and pennies

Sarah Steimer

College weight gain can sometimes be a product of a tight budget and not merely laziness.

With students’ wallets being constantly pinched, it’s no wonder they choose the cheapest route in picking meals.

“If a student only chooses foods of low cost, it’s often not very nutrient-dense,” said Jodie Luidhardt, part-time instructor and registered dietitian.

She went on to say that these low cost foods are often energy-dense, but only in terms of being high in carbohydrates and sugars.

An average meal from a burger chain such as Wendy’s or McDonald’s is about $5 or $6, not to mention (when french fries and a soft drink are included) more than 1,000 calories in most cases.

The Food and Drug Administration recommends a daily calorie intake of 2,100 calories for college-aged women and 3,000 calories for college-aged men. Both figures are correct if the person stays moderately active. A meal from a food chain would take up either half or 1/3 of a student’s daily calorie intake.

Alex Bojko, sophomore sports administration major, said he finds price to be the bigger factor in choosing a meal.

“It might not be the same quality,” Bojko said of fatty versus healthy foods, “But it’s just more economical.”

The nation’s obsession with its obesity epidemic has led to studies proving that low-income families are more likely to have obesity issues. The same can be true for a college student trying to spend as little as possible on meals.

Even students who try to stay healthy on a tight budget will run into problems. Last week, Acme grocery stores advertised a sale on iceberg lettuce; buy one, get one free. Although it is lettuce, it’s not as healthy as it sounds.

Iceberg lettuce has a high water content and very little nutritional value. Romaine lettuce is higher in price but has a lower water content and more nutrients than iceberg.

The Kent Natural Foods Co-op in downtown Kent has been the area’s provider of healthy food product since 1971. Elizabeth Ryan, an employee at the Co-op, said about half of the store’s customers are Kent State students. Ryan said these students don’t do major shopping here, but instead buy healthy snack foods. The store, she said, is a great place for vegan and vegetarian students.

Ryan said she isn’t sure if healthier foods, like those sold at the Co-op, are more expensive than anything sold at a regular grocery store because she doesn’t shop at those regular grocery stores.

“I’m healthier. I don’t get sick a lot,” Ryan said of her grocery choice.

Aside from working at the Co-op, she is also a mother of three and a student. She said she finds her decision to be a wise one. “I don’t get a lot of sleep but I feel energized.”

For those still unsure if they want to go searching and spending extra on healthy alternatives, Luidhardt suggested going for a salad (with light dressing) or baked potato at fast food restaurants. Many of these restaurants, she explained, also have broiled chicken instead of fried. She also suggested choosing a fast-food place like Subway.

For students looking for assistance with their meal decisions, the Kent State Nutrition Outreach Program offers free nutrition counseling and meal planning for a healthier lifestyle. They can be reached at (330) 672-2063.

Contact student finance reporter Sarah Steimer at [email protected].