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Hungry on Campus

food insecurity

Many college students don’t have access to nutritious, affordable food

A new study finds that nearly half of college students don’t have easy access to nutritious and affordable food. Among them, more than 20 percent actually had gone hungry in the past month.

The report from the National Student Campaign Against Hunger and Homelessness was conducted in spring 2016 at eight community colleges and 26 four-year colleges and universities across the country.

The report says that so-called “food insecurity” is found at both two-year and four-year institutions. And first-generation college students were more likely to be food insecure than students who had at least one parent who had attended college -- 56 percent compared to 45 percent.

Students said they were going hungry even if they were earning some income at a job or had a college meal plan. Hungry students reported running out of meal points to use at the dining hall before the end of each term.

Empty stomachs are more than an inconvenience. Persistent hunger can distract students from classes and, in some cases, lead to them dropping out, the report said. Lowering the price of textbooks, emergency grants and expanding eligibility for SNAP, the federal government’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, for college students were among the solutions proposed to help college students with bare cupboards.

Planning and a little preparation also can help struggling students to stretch what little resources they have. Here are four ways college students can avoid hunger pangs and focus, instead, on their class work.

Make a dining hall meal plan: If you’re on a meal plan, before the start of each semester, map out the number of meals available to you in the dining hall. Determine how many meals a day you can eat there to ensure you don’t spend all of those meal points at the beginning of the semester. Plan to eat big meals in the dining hall and supplement with smaller, inexpensive ones at home.

Don’t shop the convenience store: Near college campuses, convenience stores often are the most convenient place to do a little grocery shopping. But they do nothing but drain money from your wallet. According to the American Bankers Association, convenience store shoppers spend about 20 percent more than they would at a grocery store for the same item. If the closest grocery store is an excursion, make plans for monthly trips to load up on peanut butter, canned goods, frozen vegetables, pasta, beans and other healthy non-perishables.

Invest in a slow cooker: Slow cookers, which cost as little as $15, are an easy way to make a lot of food on a budget. For just $2 and some water, you can make 12 hearty meals from a one pound bag of black beans. Need some inspiration? Learn about the health benefits of black beans here! For about $5.25, you can make eight servings of this chunky lentil and vegetable soup. You can use a slow cooker even if you don’t have a kitchen, but you’ll want access to a small refrigerator to store your leftovers.

Ask for help: If anything, the campaign’s report shows students that they aren’t alone. And, thankfully, many campuses have resources for hungry students. Almost 400 campus-based food pantries have registered with the College and University Food Bank Alliance, which supports campus food banks. Other community resources also can offer a helping hand.

For many students, the struggle to pay for textbooks, keep up with college tuition and make passing grades is hard enough. Hunger shouldn’t be part of the mix.

If you are experiencing financial difficulty and are looking for a solution, non-profit credit counseling can help you make sense of all your options. Contact us today for a free financial assessment with one of our certified credit counselors.

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