Free(food) Isn’t Free

At UNC, it was Pokey Sticks, pizza, hush puppies, and Bojangles.

I’m cool with that.

And, with age, comes maturity, right?

Like a really mature cheese.

A Swiss gruyere, perhaps?

Or a very mature… Whoopie Pie from Cupcake and Whoopie Cravings.

Red Velvet = sexual chocolate

Instead of the All-American/All-Southern foods, we get a diverse mix of international cuisines.

Veggie lo-mein, quinoa and wheatberry salad, HOLY MACKEREL what a spread!!

But, no matter whether you’re getting a greasy Pokey Stick in your dorm building’s meeting or gourmet salami picante and Margherita pizza at a Happy Hour for Public Health students, at the end of the day, free food is NOT free.


I know it’s been the case with me. I’ve been thinking to myself YEESH grad school is so expensive. I have nothing in the way of a steady income (though I am loving the Athleta job, it’s certainly not a 40-hour career gig that can support city living) and ANYTHING free is better then spending my own money, right?


Last week, with all sorts of events going on for school and a little bit of wobbling when it came to getting accustomed to my new working-girl schedule, I found myself rushing around campus going to any and all events that were free and sponsored by campus. Collecting cookies, soft pretzels, and hot dogs for the run. Thanking my lucky stars that I wasn’t shelling out my dollars on expensive salads and grilled chicken. And then it hit me.

With the effort that I was putting forth finding the times for these events, mapping out the destination and the route to get there, and considering time is money… I was spending quite a bit on these “free” meals.

Their nutritional value was rarely better than the slop you’d find at a fast food restaurant or a massive buffet. Hamburgers, pasta salad, hot dogs, snack-bar cookies, brownies. And the occasional fruit cup and quinoa salad didn’t really offset the unhealthy other junk.

The result of the week?

blub blub blub

I’m feeling like a pufferfish, head to toe.

So this weekend, I went out, nabbed some grapes, some chicken breasts, frozen veggies, and spinach at my local Superfresh. Instead of taking the bus there, I jogged. And I prepared food for the week.

For when I have to eat lunch/dinner at work, I picked up some sandwich thins, lunch meat, onion, and fruits for my lunch bag. No rushing over to McDonalds for convenience and cheap burgers.

Turns out that the cost of this free food was surprisingly steep. My self-esteem, my energy, my time, and my digestive system.  And that’s just not worth it, not at all.

They say there’s no such thing as a free lunch, and I think I might have with that disembodied wisdom.

Ever fall into the “Free Food” trap? 

Any advice for navigating it without ending up puffy and sad?

I’d say avoid the carbs, that’s going to be the very worst part of the meal most of the time. The hot dog buns, the noodles, the cookies… they ended up as the lowest of the low quality.





9 thoughts on “Free(food) Isn’t Free

  1. Working as an accountant in the resturatant business – we oftentimes will get lunch catered in by some of our client restaurants. When i first started this job all I could think was, “Holy cow! Free LUNCH!!!” Now there are days that I will still bring my lunch, regardless what the free menu is for the day. Sometimes its handy – but others its just not worth the cruddy feeling that shows up throughout the rest of the day!

  2. Awesome post! It is SO difficult to stay healthy when you’re so busy in grad school! I used to make crock pot soups all the time and freeze them in individual containers for lunch/dinner … and anything in a crock pot tastes amazing after 8 hours 🙂 I also love frozen edamame single packs (they are usually Sponge Bob brand for kids .. but so easy to toss in a micro for a quick, healthy and filling snack). I also love individual peanut butter packets, Luna bars and yogurts that you can carry with you all day. Hope school is going well..can’t wait to see you in Jan/Feb!!!!

    • Luna Bar actually saved the day last night at the bar. Had no interest in the french fries when I had a tasty, fulfilling oatmeal raisin Luna on hand!!

      You’re gonna be such a good mom someday, Cait! Snack attacks are no foe for YOU, prepared w/ spongebob edamame!

  3. Awww sweets! Make sure to hydrate to offset the sodium intake. Also, if you ever want a free meal, I will come over and cook for you. Totally. 🙂

  4. Crap in the break room gets me sometimes. It’s super frustrating because it’s rarely delicious. Sometimes it’s good, but not like amazeballs or anything.

  5. Ugh, I totally feel ya here. I get a free meal every day at work. Sometimes I make a healthy decision, sometimes I don’t. Because I’ve been so freakin’ busy lately, I’m also eating out a TON more than ever before. I feel disgusting. I’m so over it. So if I ever get done with homework today, I’ll be doing some major meal planning & grocery shopping myself.

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