Thirty percent of U.S. college students experience food insecurity — that is “disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources.” According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), food insecurity exists in two forms: low food security characterized by “reduced quality, variety, or desirability of diet” and very low food security characterized by “multiple indications of disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.” Thankfully, for hungry students, there are more than 700 campus pantries all over the country, according to the College and University Food Bank Alliance.

You’ll likely find staple items in the pantry at your school. Based on the web pages of the pantries located at Georgetown University and George Washington University in D.C., University of Maryland, and George Mason University in Virginia, these places are stocked with shelf-stable dry pasta, boxed macaroni and cheese, ramen noodles, canned soups, canned vegetables, canned fish, peanut butter, bread, beans, and rice, etc.

However, it’s important to try not to be deterred from accessing ingredients that may support immunity, now that the majority of the students have returned to classrooms, regardless of COVID-19 vaccine mandate status at their respective universities. It’s better to err on the side of eating right than not, in case you get infected with a variant of SARS-CoV-2 or if you catch what feels like the worst common cold.

Getting sick with COVID is the last thing one needs as a food-insecure student already burdened with tuition, books, and rent.  I know because I’ve experienced not only food insecurity, but also housing instability. Because I couldn’t protect myself from contracting COVID in April 2020 while living at a congregate shelter, I prepared to mitigate the risk of the virus infection to progress into something far worse. An apple (without pesticides) a day keeps the doctor away. And, in my case, that’s the whole purpose — to truly be safe and healthy when masks weren't mandated and vaccines were no where around.

Eating healthily while facing food insecurity sounds easier said than done, but it’s not impossible. One of the ways the pandemic contributed to the fight against hunger is by creating a greater and more urgent need to find permanent solutions to the broken supply chains. Soon after universities had closed their campuses and sent students home spring of 2020, James Kanoff, a Stanford University student, and Aidan Reilly, a Brown University student, recruited initial team members and raised funds to rent a truck to rescue surplus eggs from going to waste by transporting them to West Side Food Bank in Los Angeles. The Farmlink Project was born, and it now operates in several states, connecting farmers with hungry people. Pantries that distribute the food rerouted by Farmlink can be located through a search on Food Finders. Perhaps your campus pantry receives donations through Farmlink deliveries. If not, fresh vegetables and fruits from your local pantries will supplement what you can get from campus pantries to healthify your meals.

The importance of including lots of fresh vegetables and fruits in your food intake during these times can’t be stressed enough. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults eat nine servings (4.5 cups) of vegetables and fruits per day, along with other unprocessed foods, to get the vitamins, minerals, dietary fiber, protein and antioxidants our bodies need. The WHO also recommends limiting the consumption of salty and sugary foods and alcohol. Certain food items such as purple vegetables, broccoli, kale, oranges, berries, beans, ginger, garlic, onion, mushrooms, beets, nuts, and seeds, etc. are packed with nutrients needed to fight illnesses. The recipes below incorporate some of these plant-based ingredients, along with shelf-stable items more commonly found in many pantries and other ingredients that are relatively inexpensive to purchase in grocery stores: 

Recipe 1: Ramen Noodle Soup with Broccoli, Carrots, and Herring Fillet

  • Prep Time:3 mins
  • Cook Time:4 mins
  • Total Time:7 mins
  • Servings:1
  • Easy


  • 1 package ramen noodles
  • 1 carrot cut into 1/4 -inch slices or 14-oz can carrots and peas
  • 1 cup broccoli floret pieces
  • 1 3-6-oz canned fish in water: tuna salmon herring etc.
  • 2 tbsp diced onion
  • 3/4 cup canned mushrooms
  • 1 tsp minced garlic fresh or from a jar
  • 1 tsp minced ginger optional
  • A pinch ground turmeric optional
  • Wedge lemon optional
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Seth Canada
  • Step 1

    Bring 2.5 cups of water to a boil in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add fresh carrot and cook for a minute. (If using canned vegetables, simply add them last, along with canned fish.)

    vegetable, pasture, carrot, farmer's market
    Caroline Ingalls
  • Step 2

    Add ramen noodles and then cook for about a minute. (Discard the flavor pack that’s full of sodium.) Add broccoli and cook for 30-45 seconds.

    noodle, ramen, vegetable, pepper, pasta, soup
    Megan Prendergast
  • Step 3

    Add the rest of the ingredients, including the juices from the fish can. Cook for 30 seconds until all ingredients are heated. Season with salt and pepper. Serve with lemon.

    Seth Canada

Note: Feel free to explore various possibilities with produce items you get in a given week. Try a version without canned fish or chicken by adding a tablespoon of flavorful nutritional yeast (sold in health food stores bulk or packaged similar to  seasonings at about $1.50 per ounce) to the soup. If the canned vegetables contain preservatives or added sugar, it’s best to drain them. In place of canned mushrooms, a medley of mushrooms sautéed with garlic and olive oil sold frozen is preferable if your budget allows (under $4 for a 28-oz bag at Trader Joe’s)

Recipe 2: Beans Three Ways

  • Prep Time:50 mins
  • Cook Time:1 hr 10 mins
  • Total Time:2 hrs
  • Servings:6
  • Medium


  • 1 pound dry beans: red kidney pinto etc. soaked for 20 hours
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1 large onion diced
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 tbsp minced garlic
  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 15-oz canned beets or 1 cup German-style red cabbage and apples in brine from a jar
  • 1 cucumber core separated and saved for later; diced
  • 2 tbsp fermented crushed Calabrian chili peppers
  • Juice ¾ lemon
  • 1 cup green or red salsa from a jar
  • 6-8 crackers
  • 1 carrot cut into sticks
  • 3 cups fresh baby spinach or spring baby greens
  • 1 15-oz can corn drained; warmed
  • 4 cups cooked rice brown or white or 8 soft tortillas
  • Salt and pepper to taste
Seth Canada
  • Step 1

    Place soaked beans in a Dutch oven or a large pot with a lid. Beans should be submerged under one inch of water before cooking. Cook them on a stove top over low heat for about 45 minutes, checking every 20 minutes. When fully cooked, beans should have absorbed most of the water. Divide cooked beans evenly, and chill half of them in a fridge.

    cereal, coffee, black beans, beans, vegetable, azuki bean, pasture, legume, kidney bean
    Zoe Malin
  • Step 2

    To make refried beans, heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat for a few seconds. Add ¾ of diced onion and cook until soft and caramelized for about two to three minutes, stirring a few times. Add the second half of the cooked beans, garlic, cumin and turmeric.

    Seth Canada
  • Step 3

    Drain some of the juices or brine from the beet can or cabbage jar into this frying pan. Cook the ingredients for two minutes, smashing the beans with a ladle or spoon, leaving a few beans whole. Season these refried beans with salt and pepper. Keep covered and warm.

    Seth Canada
  • Step 4

    To make spicy bean-cucumber salad, mix diced cucumber, chili peppers, lemon juice, ¼ diced onion and chilled beans in a large bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

    Seth Canada
  • Step 5

    To make bean dip, place the core of a cucumber, ¾ cup salsa and 1 cup refried beans in a food processor. Blend ingredients until smooth.

    Seth Canada
  • Step 6

    The dip can be eaten with crackers and carrot sticks. Also, serve it as part of the main dish — a vegan bowl with refried beans, spicy bean salad, beets or red cabbage with apples, ¼ cup salsa and fresh baby greens over hot cooked rice or with warm tortillas.

    Seth Canada

Note: An 8-oz jar of Calabrian peppers in olive oil costs less than $3 at Trader Joe’s. Fresh carrots and baby greens can be replaced with bell peppers, celery and baby greens with any type of leafy greens (romaine and kale, etc.) as what produce distribution sites have each week can't be predicted. Boiled unpeeled potatoes are a healthier alternative to corn. 

Recipe 3: Salad Greens Two Ways

  • Prep Time:3 mins
  • Cook Time:3 mins
  • Total Time:6 mins
  • Servings:2
  • Easy


  • 5 oz baby spinach or any mixed salad greens washed
  • 3/4 cup cooked beets or German red cabbage with apples along with some the juices from the can or jar
  • 1/3 cup walnut pieces
  • 1/4 lemon
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil optional
  • 1 tsp oil
  • 1 tsp mined garlic optional
  • 1 cup cooked white brown red or wild rice
  • 1 tbsp nutritional yeast
  • Salt and pepper to taste
vegetable, lettuce, herb, arugula, salad, spinach, mizuna greens, dandelion greens
Ellen Gibbs
  • Step 1

    Mix half of the salad greens with beets or red cabbage, their juices, walnut pieces and lemon juice. Use extra virgin olive oil, if desired, for this salad.

    Seth Canada
  • Step 2

    Heat oil in a frying pan over medium heat for less than a minute. Add greens and garlic. Quickly cook greens for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Remove from heat, and season with salt, pepper and nutritional yeast. Serve over warm cooked rice.

    Seth Canada

Note: Vegetables and fruits are more nutritious in their uncooked state. However, if you received a tub of baby greens from your produce spot that aren't necessarily the freshest,  consider consuming the best of them raw and sauteing the rest without exposing them to heat for long. Food pantries may also have cooked rice in 8-oz cups or 16-oz pouches. Walnut pieces,  a one-pound bag of lemons and olive oil can be purchased at Trader Joe's for about $10.