Nutrition student turns capstone project into cookbook

profile picture of Alexandra Mack

Feb. 20, 2024 – DENTON –  Want a quick and healthy meal that won’t break the bank?

If you have a can of mixed vegetables, a can of chickpeas, tortillas, spices and access to an oven, you can make some chickpea veggie pockets. Not only are they tasty and high in protein, they also can be frozen and reheated. Perfect for college students who don’t have a lot of time – or a lot of money. 

The recipe for chickpea veggie pockets can be found in Apartment Friendly Cooking, a cookbook that’s part of a capstone research project created by Texas Woman’s senior Alexandra Mack. Mack is a nutrition and dietetics student and president of the TWU Honors Scholar Program. 

What makes Mack’s cookbook unique is the majority of the recipe ingredients can be found at Minerva’s Market. The market is a free, on-campus pantry that helps fill the gap for students experiencing food insecurity. 

“I wanted to show students that you can create tasty, healthy meals with the pantry staples,” Mack said. “It is difficult, but I did the hard work for them.”

Mack’s capstone, a requirement to graduate from the honors program, centered on exploring and improving food insecurity among TWU college students. 

Alexandra Mack stands in pantry with food on shelves behind her

“College food insecurity isn’t talked about as much because I think people assume college students are on meal plans,” Mack said. “I didn’t realize until I was doing my research how many college students struggle with having enough food.”

One out of three college students face food insecurity nationally, according to Swipe Out Hunger, a nonprofit that addresses hunger among college students. In her research, Mack referenced a survey-based study done by a TWU PhD student and TWU professors that found 49.2% of the student population was found to have low or very low food security.

Mack’s inspiration for the cookbook came from Minerva’s Market patrons. She determined from surveys and interviews that students needed help navigating around the kitchen. 

Students told Mack that while they were grateful to just have a can of beans, they would love to make something with them – not just eat them out of the can.

“I totally get that,” Mack said. 

After getting a grocery list of what is usually available at Minerva’s Market, Mack spent a bulk of her summer cooking and baking. She created her own recipes and looked up others, tweaking ingredients to fit her needs. She ended up with two cookbooks: one for residence hall students who only have microwaves and another for apartment dwellers who have access to a kitchen. She also created a few cooking videos.

student wearing hat holding up 2 poblano peppers in garden

Recipes ran the gamut from an egg burrito microwaved in a mug to desserts made from canned fruits.

“Since I cook a lot at home, I felt confident that I could make things that people liked and would need,” Mack said. “And, then I tested everything to make sure it all worked. The one thing I didn’t want to happen was someone would try it and it didn’t work and say, ‘I’m never cooking again.’ When you fail at cooking or baking, it can get really discouraging. I want them to have fun with it.” 

Applying what she learned from her nutrition studies, she incorporated healthy options and created recipes for people with dietary restrictions. 

“I needed to be able to understand different principles of food science to ensure my recipes came out accurate and tasty,” Mack said.

Mack has taken her cookbooks and capstone project on the road. She was selected to present her capstone research to honors faculty and students across the United States at the National Collegiate Honors Conference in Chicago. 

Mack credits her faculty advisor, associate professor Kathleen Davis, who leads the dietetic internship program on the Denton campus, for being so supportive. 

“I came into this project really not knowing anything about research and about how I could make my goals a reality, and Dr. Davis dedicated time out of her immensely busy schedule to guide me through each process,” Mack said. 

“Alexandra is an intelligent, professional student, a deep thinker, and someone who seeks volunteer and academic experiences that will help her reach her goals and make the world a better place,” Davis said. 

Since Mack’s career goal is to become a registered dietician nutritionist (RDN), her next step is graduate school with a program that focuses on the public health aspect of nutrition. A dietetic internship, graduate degree and passing a board exam are requirements to becoming an RDN.

Mack hopes her recipes can not only be helpful but also help lower stigma, which she believes is the root of college food insecurity. 

“If people could come to the market, get some recipes along with the food and then go home and make it themselves, that might feel empowering to them,” she said.

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Page last updated 3:05 PM, March 28, 2024