By SHIRLEY FOO It’s 9 on a Wednesday night and you’ve just returned to your dorm room after a full day of interning, followed by a two-hour lecture. You open your refrigerator but it’s empty! You ate those leftovers yesterday. You contemplate going on Seamless again, but do you really want to spend those precious few extra dollars on delivery and tips? You think about going to the nearest restaurant to buy takeout, but the thought of walking anywhere in the cold after the long day makes you want to collapse on your bed and never get up.
College life is hard. On top of balancing coursework, part-time jobs, professional internships, and a social life, you also need to find time to fulfill basic human needs, such as feeding yourself. What happens when you’ve run out of leftovers, had no time for grocery shopping, are too broke to get food delivered, and too tired to eat out? Is there such a things as a cheap nutritious meal ready to eat in five minutes or less?
Millennials want it all: low cost, convenience, and healthy eating all rolled into one meal. Peanut butter and jelly? No thanks, millennials want kale and avocado. “I don’t compromise my health just because I’m hungry,” said Julia Shore, a New York University junior who would rather spend five minutes baking kale chips than snacking on regular potato chips––that is, if she had kale in her fridge.
In general, healthy diets are rising in prominence, with the United States Department of Agriculture reporting that 42% of working age adults use the nutrition facts panel when making food choices, placing increased importance on nutrition when choosing items to purchase. The Hartman Group’s report on “The Culture of Millennials” demonstrates that 39% of millennials believe they tend to be healthier than previous generations. But 22% of millennials report that they rarely have the time or energy to cook. Instead of sacrificing health for convenience, many millennials have turned to alternative, “radical” diets.
The ready-to-drink Soylent is a newfangled approach to sustenance. Advertising itself as a meal replacement, Soylent was developed from “a need for a simpler food source.” Creator Robert Rhinehart and his team formulated this food product after recognizing the “disproportionate amount of time and money they spent creating nutritionally complete meals.” Five bottles of Soylent, made using soy protein, algal oil, isomaltulose, and one-fifth of all essential micronutrients, are enough to cover breakfast, lunch, and dinner. With 30,000 units of Soylent sold per month in 2014 and a 300% increase in business this year, Soylent is giving new meaning to dieting, and millennials are catching on fast.
“I was skeptical about it at first because it tastes really weird,” said freshman Andrew Chow. “But it’s extremely cheap at twelve bottles for $29 and you don’t need to spend time cooking, so it’s perfect for college students.” While Chow admits that a bottle of Soylent isn’t the tastiest meal, he recommends it because it packs a lot of nutrients, and five bottles fill him up for an entire day.
Juicing is another quick and inexpensive diet trend that millennials enjoy. “These days, you throw a rock, you hit a juice bar,” said Melvin Major, Jr., operator of New York’s popular Melvin’s Juice Box. With the at-home juicing business estimated at nearly $300 million in U.S. sales annually, juicing has made its way from juiceries into the homes of millennials.
“I love juicing because all you need to do is throw some ingredients into a blender and two minutes later, you have yourself a meal,” said sophomore Lisa Dawn. While a drink made out of blended fruits and vegetables may not seem like a lot of food for one meal, Dawn adds protein to her diet by using almond milk as the base of her juices. She also alternates between using beetroot and kale to increase her fiber intake.
But there is a science to juicing. “You can’t make a meal by blending strawberries and bananas––that’s just a fruit smoothie,” said Dawn. To transform a fruit smoothie into an actual meal, Dawn adds “less appealing ingredients,” like spinach, hemp protein, flaxseed, and chia seeds. “These aren’t the cheapest ingredients on the market, but I think of it as an investment for my health,” she said. Compared to having a meat dish for dinner, juicing with bonus ingredients still comes in at around $5 per meal, especially when buying fruits and vegetables in bulk.
But not all millennials buy into these “radical” meal plans. Sophomore Rhea Patel has been “yo-yo dieting” since the start of high school––losing weight from a diet and then gaining it back after the effects of dieting wear off. Having tried no-carb, no-sugar, and juicing diets, Patel reports that none of them are permanent solutions. Like 2.5% of the U.S. population, she has now transitioned to veganism, which she believes is more sustainable than extreme dieting. “Diets like juicing are so limiting that I found it impossible to stick with it after several days, and I missed eating regular solid food,” she said. “On the other hand, veganism offers more flexibility, so it’s more feasible as a lifestyle change.”
Jessica Kosciewicz, a registered dietitian at the New York University student health center, believes that any food can be eaten, in moderation. “If you are on an extreme diet where you have cut out major food groups or drastically changed how you eat, the results are not sustainable,” she said. “You are better off making lifestyle changes and learning to listen to your body’s cues.”