Nutritious U

Rebecca Leighton
Rebecca Leighton on the St. Paul campus, where she and fellow students are growing food to supply Nutritious U, which helps U of M students who struggle with hunger. Photo by Liz Banfield

There’s a philosophy out there that says it’s inevitable for college students to eat the “ramen diet”—cheap, inexpensive food that pack a lot of calories but little actual nutrition.

Rebecca Leighton is working to change that notion. She believes that proper nutrition starts with access to healthy and affordable food, and that’s why she founded Nutritious U—a food pantry for students on the U of M campus.

It started as a class project while Leighton was pursuing her master’s in the School of Public Health’s Nutrition program.

Students had to assess the needs of a community, create some kind of solution, and write a budget. Leighton focused her efforts close to home and discovered that 10 percent of U of M students reported experiencing food shortages and almost 18 percent worried about food running out.

“After the class wrapped up, I knew I was going to continue [the project],” says Leighton.

So she made phone calls. She visited administrators. She even asked building maintenance personnel if she could have space for a food pantry.

After two successful pilots, the U’s Office for Student Affairs got behind the effort. Boynton Health secured a home for Nutritious U in Coffman Union and funded it for the first year while additional funding options are explored. 

Leighton was also given land for a garden on the St. Paul campus, which she expects will yield about 1,300 pounds of fresh vegetables for Nutritious U.

And after Leighton finished her master’s degree in August, Boynton hired her to oversee the program.

“It’s crazy what you can get done on college campuses,” she says. “There are resources, and there are lots of people who want to help.”

About Nutritious U

Nutritious U is located in 210 Coffman Union. No proof of income or need is necessary (just a UCard). The pantry is stocked with healthy, nutritious options including a variety of fresh, frozen, and canned produce. Support the food pantry by making a donation.