Navigating Campus Dining During Covid Part 3: Thoughts on Food Insecurity on Campus

by Sarah Faigle, MPH, RD, LDN and Cynthia Bulik, PhD

This is Part 3 of a three part blog series on safe eating after returning to college. Part 1 focused on safe dining for a general UNC student audience and Part 2 focused on specific challenges facing individuals with eating disorders.

COVID-19 has brought many serious changes to our day-to-day lives, some of which are greatly affecting our bank accounts. Many college students were on limited budgets prior to the pandemic but, this year, it is likely that even more will be struggling financially. With the unemployment rate in the country at historic levels it is likely many students will be receiving less financial support from family and loved ones. In addition, the limitations placed on stores and restaurants due to COVID-19 may make part time jobs, and supplemental income less available to students and others. Considering these challenges, everyone must be creative and resourceful when it comes to stocking their pantries and keeping themselves and their families fed.

pexels-suzy-hazelwood-1306559Food insecurity is defined as not having enough money for consistent and  dependable access to enough food to support an active and healthy life. A 2019 study revealed that 25.2% of undergraduates and 17.8% of graduate students were food insecure. The first message from this study is that if you are struggling, you are not alone. Food insecurity is an invisible but critical problem on campus (even before the pandemic). The second message is that we need to make sure that every student at UNC has adequate nourishment.

The coming year may not be the opportune time to be extravagant with food but, it may be a time to be adventurous. Individuals who typically would buy fresh organic chicken may need to swap to canned chicken for a while. Looking for fresh veggies? Discounted fresh veggies may be more available at farm stands or the farmer’s market than at grocery stores. Or, depending on your budget,  it may be an economical shift to join a delivery service of produce such as misfits market or hungry harvest. Dry beans, peas, lentils and rice are affordable staple foods that can make up the backbone of hundreds of delicious and nutritious recipes. When in doubt—take to the internet—where you will find several websites tailored to cooking on a budget that provide meal cost breakdowns and grocery lists. Although our meals may need to look a little different than they have in the past, there are many creative ways to keep nourishing our bodies and our minds during this unprecedented time.

pexels-viktor-smith-beans snd dalEven if we are as creative and flexible as possible, times may arise when the food we can afford is just not enough for us or our loved ones. There are several COVID-19 specific services available in NC. For families, parents can call 2-1-1 to find meal sites in their neighborhood. No Kid Hungry has also created a map of local school sites, community organizations and food assistance programs across North Carolina.

In addition to programs geared towards children, anyone in NC can text FOODNC to 877-877 to find places nearby that are donating free meals. This service is also available in Spanish by texting COMIDA to 877-877. UNC students struggling with food insecurity have access to the Carolina Cupboard Cupboard, a food pantry on campus. There are several food pantries and free meals available throughout Chapel Hill, Durham, and Hillsborough, their locations can be found at If you feel that the money for adequate food is not going to be available to you for a while, it may be beneficial to see if you qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). When you do obtain food from a pantry and are not sure how to make it appetizing, try an internet search of “what to do with ______?” A quick internet search is a foolproof way to come up with meal ideas for any ingredient.

The bottom line is, we want no student or their family members at UNC to go hungry. North Carolina is working hard to address food insecurity in our State. UNC cares not only about nourishing minds, but also nourishing bodies!

Soldavini, J. & Berner, M. & Silva, J. (2019). Rates of and characteristics associated with food insecurity differ among undergraduate and graduate students at a large public university in the Southeast United States. Preventive Medicine Reports. 14. 100836. 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100836.