Lauren is one of five student leaders on the Campus Hunger Project Planning Team. She is a current sophomore and a board member of Challah for Hunger at the University of Vermont. To follow Lauren and the Planning Team’s progress, sign up for monthly updates here.
As a student at the University of Vermont, I have seen many of my peers struggle to budget out their meal plan’s dining points for the semester and end up forced to spend money buying meals outside of the plan or even skip meals if they do not have this money.
This is not just a problem on my campus: according to a recent study, 46% of food insecure college students run out of meal points before the semester is over compared to 33% of all students running out of meal points.
My current meal plan costs $2,061 a semester and comes with 1400 dining points, which averages out to about 90 dining points a week, or a little under $20.11 per day. For one week, I decided to try living off this dining point budget without skipping meals or spending more than 90 points.
By day one I realized that there was no way I was going to stay in this budget if I was only buying prepared food. From the limited grocery section available in the on-campus grocery market I bought cereal, an individual sized milk, rice, frozen broccoli and a small container of sliced chicken breast costing a day’s worth of points. I wanted to make those ingredients last me three days worth of dinner and breakfast and then I could spend the combination of the two other days of points on three days worth of lunches at other markets closer to my classes where I don’t have time to prepare food in between class.
I was able to eat three meals a day for the whole week, but it took a lot of planning and control. The only way I was able to stay within my 90 points was to prepare my own meals from the very limited grocery selection. I was definitely hungry at some points during the day and found myself seeking out free food whenever I could. Snacks were hard to buy as they only sell individually portioned snacks which tends to be pricier than buying a whole package. I found it hard to eat healthy as well, when buying ingredients for dinner my vegetable options were frozen corn or frozen broccoli and my starch options were pasta or white rice. My goal for lunch was to buy whatever would fill me up the most even if it wasn’t a healthy option.
I realized during this week that I am very lucky to have the ability to get food elsewhere if I need it – after just one week eating on this limited budget, I felt more hungry and tired than usual. It was very stressful trying to budget my meal plan and find time every day to cook dinner.
Expensive, mandatory meals plans that don’t provide three meals a day are causing serious health and financial issues for low income students who pay for a required meal plan and can’t afford to buy food elsewhere.
Two organizations are trying to help these students. The nonprofit Swipe Out Hunger allows students to donate meal swipes and points that they do not need to their peers. Over 400 Universities and Colleges as members of the College and University Food Bank Alliance have on campus food banks that allow students to get additional food which can help them spread out their meal plan.
While these resources are very useful to help students get the food they need at the current moment, students at some schools are advocating for more permanent solutions, petitioning the cost, quality, and availability of the food on the meal plan. Here at the University of Vermont a new committee of faculty was formed to investigate these issues further on our campus. These actions are urging policy changes at the university level which is the only way to cause long term change for the food security of students.