Cooking a dying art for college students: Fox experts blame time constraints and lack of knowledge

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Many students don’t know the first thing about preparing a meal and resort to whatever is quick, cheap and easy. Attempting to explain why, experts at UW-Fox are on either side of the issue, blaming the unhealthy habits either lack of knowledge of how to cook or simply the time constraint that comes from college life.

Carol Gipp, lunch lady at UW-Fox Valley, has served students for 20 years.

Gipp sees firsthand the choices college students make when it comes to food, and she says it’s clear that they go with what is familiar to them.

The UW-Fox Valley cafeteria serves students through the private company Food Service Incorporated (FSI). • photo by Vinnie Oestreich

“[We provide] what they like to eat. More elegant lunches, they just don’t like. I tell my boss all the time, ‘we’re not a restaurant, we’re a cafeteria,’” Gipp says.

According to Gipp, the chicken tender basket is the No. 1 seller, and, a few years ago, it was a grilled cheese sandwich and french fries meal. While the bestselling food item changes, Gipp explains students eating habits haven’t changed. Gipp suggests that the problem may lie among the campuses, but the specific fault lies in college students’ lack of knowledge of how to cook.

Gipp is mostly self-taught at cooking, with a bit of her grandmother’s guidance. Cooking for the family was an expectation of Gipp and her cousins.

“I’ve been cooking on the grill [since I was] 4 or 5 [years old],” Gipp says.

She suggests that because a two-income home is almost necessary to raise a family today, parents just aren’t teaching children to cook anymore.

“Parents nowadays are career-oriented,” she says.

Michelle Pietrzak, assistant professor of health and exercise science and athletics at UW-Fox Valley and mother of two college students, might disagree. She knows that students, understandably, go for what is cheap and fast due to schedule constraints, which may or may not have to do with their cooking skills, but the reality of the “freshman 15” also exists.

Pietrzak says, though, that it isn’t very hard to make a healthy snack with the proper ingredients.

She goes on to recommend a way to prepare quick healthy snack.

“Dice up a couple of whatever vegetables you have in the fridge, a little olive oil, salt and pepper, throw It in the oven for a while. It doesn’t have to be extravagant, [and] you don’t need 85 ingredients or a long prep time,” Pietrzak said.

Pietrzak added that it doesn’t have to be expensive, either.

She encourages students to read the label or use a free smartphone application called “Fooducate.” With it one can scan the bar code on packaged food items and it will give a letter grade (A-D) and then explain the nutrition facts and the benefits of the product. It’s a good way to not be deceived by advertisement.

Being a good cook comes with a lot of practice and trial and error. It may be a lack of time, money, education or ambition, but both Gipp and Pietrzak say there is something that is keeping students from preparing healthy meals on their own.

Josue Troncoso, sophomore at UW-Fox Valley says his diet consists of mostly liquids. His go-to meal, if he had to prepare one, would be yogurt and berries. He is the skinniest member of his family.

“[In my fridge] everything is expired … if there is food in there, it’s because I buy it for friends who come over,” Troncoso says.

Another UW-Fox sophomore, Na Chang, when asked if he’s a cook, replies laughing.

“Yeah, but not a good one,” Chang says.

His right-hand recipe is fried rice for which he strictly follows the instructions.

Chang says he eats “in moderation.” Then he proceeded to take a bite of beef jerky. Smiling, he said, “It’s protein.”

On the other hand, a nontraditional college student, Tyler Rasmussen, a 29-year old sophomore at UW-Fox Valley, refers to his eating habits as a, “whole-food, plant-based diet.”

Rasmussen, who prefers healthier choices, is less able to eat at UW-Fox Valley, given the selections.

“It’s especially difficult being in school where there aren’t many options [for my dietary choices],” Rasmussen says.

Despite these healthy choices out of campus, Rasmussen still faces challenges in his diet.

“I’d like my diet to be sustainable, but I don’t have much free time,” he says.

He explained that he must be careful and timely about food intake because he also takes medication for ADHD.

Rasmussen offers a different perspective; he is a college student, but he does still eat relatively well, despite small hurdles that college may be responsible for.

It is undeniable that the art of cooking is dying in young adults today, and it may be a generational issue that stems from economic inflation, a skill simply not imparted from parents to children or the struggle of balancing college life and debt. Or it may be a bunch of excuses.

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