Rachel Warren’s introduction to food independence was marked by constantly changing platters of food courtesy of UF’s meal plan. The experience was a fearful undertaking for the 19-year-old grazing new territory this year.
Raised by a Korean mother, Warren grew up with foods spiced with red pepper and gochujang, a red chili paste common in Korean soup and fish dishes.
“Adjusting to a diet that has no spice whatsoever has been a lot different for me,” she said. “I’ll definitely like going back for the summer and eating Korean meals with my mother and getting back the spice in my life.”
However, the change has not been all bad for Warren, who came to enjoy the accessibility of the buffet-style dining centers within walking distance from her dorm in Rawlings Hall.
She joins hundreds of hungry college students who continuously line campus cafes. After a full day of lectures and textbook chapters, they’re ready to be served a hearty dinner of grilled chicken, smoked pit ham, vegetable medleys and pasta topped with tomato sauce and fresh basil on hard plastic plates.
The image has become the new norm for many now at the mercy of self-sufficiency as they enter university life.
“It’s very convenient to go and run into people I know and grab lunch with a buddy without really planning to,” Warren said.
The psychology major appreciated being introduced to new varieties of foods she has since taken a strong liking to, such as barbecue chicken.
Switching to a declining balance come Fall 2022, she intends to devote more time to preparing many pasta salads, egg salads and other childhood favorites. However, having the dining halls just around the corner to go to will be an easy alternative for Warren whenever she falls short of ingredients.
Committing to this less-inclusive meal plan will mark a milestone for the freshman. Realizing it is time to teach herself to cook, Warren begins to enter the realm of adulthood.
Planning meals while living at UF was even more of a daunting task for Shayna Schulman, a 22-year-old political science senior. As the first in her family to attend college, she adjusted to a new way of eating all on her own.
After a friend advised her against the on-campus meal plan before she arrived on campus, Schulman became her own personal chef.
The most difficult adjustment for Schulman was having to feast on the same pasta, pizza and sandwich platters every week to avoid overspending and waste.
“When I was at home with my family we would have something different every night, but when I came to college, I would make something and have it for the next three to four days.”
Schulman’s cooking endeavors were even more complicated by the distance to her ingredients. She trekked nearly ten blocks from Yulee Hall to Publix on Northwest 13th Street to obtain her quintessential cold cuts, frozen meatballs and pasta sauces.
The transition into off-campus living eased these obstacles. The resources in Schulman’s apartment allowed her to prepare more meals for herself.
“I have a full fridge now with my roommate, so I have room to store things longer than the mini-fridge you can have in your dorm,” she said. “Now that I have a full-size kitchen, I can look up recipes and make more fun or complicated stuff.”
With inspiration from her roommates and social media, Schulman expanded her taste outside the traditional American meatloaf and chicken dishes her family prepared growing up. She even recreated Instagram influencer Kirra Graham’s “Moroccan Glow Bowl,” a Moroccan-inspired mixture of chickpeas, eggplant, tomatoes, couscous and spices like cumin and turmeric.
Nadia Kabbej, Schulman’s roommate who also comes from a Moroccan background, shared a similar experience to Schulman in her freshman year.
The 22-year-old applied physiology and kinesiology senior was raised cooking meats and roasting vegetables with her parents before moving into Simpson Hall in Fall 2018. She quickly learned it would take much more effort to nourish herself without a meal plan.
Keeping true to her Morrocan heritage, Kabbej sought to recreate the staple cuisine dinners she prepared with her dad. However, her dormitory deprived her of the space to keep the pots, pans and meats necessary for elevating these Middle Eastern dishes as she did at home.
Where she lacked access to the lamb traditional in her home-cooked couscous dishes, she began turning to salmon and other meats she could find in local grocery markets.
Like her roommate, access to more grocery stores and kitchen appliances allowed Kabbej to divulge previously unfamiliar recipes.
“I feel like I started incorporating different flavors and spices into my meals,” she said. “I started going to the Asian market and getting a couple of ingredients from there.”
Greek moussaka, Chinese dumplings, Japanese miso soup and Middle Eastern harissa have lined Kabbej’s kitchen counter while she develops the culinary skills needed for life beyond college.
“I think a lot of people have a misconception where they think cooking on your own is harder or more time-consuming,” she said. “In reality, if you just take one or two hours on a Sunday and plan out what you’re doing…it’s worth it to me.”
Contact Jared Teitel @firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jaredteitel.