Purpose ‐ This aim of this study is to investigate whether food choice varies by the place of residence (dependent or independent) of a group of young adults. Design/methodology/approach ‐ A self-administered questionnaire was used to collect quantitative data from 305 German students between the ages of 18 to 24 years. Findings ‐ It was found that students who lived in the family home consumed more helpings of both fruit and vegetables each day, compared with young adults who lived independently. Further, higher proportions of dependent students ate more servings of every food group each day compared with their independent counterparts. It was also found that there is a significant difference in mood, weight concern and attitudes towards healthy eating between students under 21-years-old and those above 21-years-old. Research limitations/implications ‐ The research was a cross-sectional study of a selected group of German university students from a single campus that was based on a quota sample and assessed self-reported behaviour on a self-administered questionnaire. While the limitations associated with these aspects of research design affect the generalizability of the findings, they, nonetheless, do not detract from the strengths and novelty of the research. Practical implications ‐ In terms of education, campaigns may consider focusing on improving the attitude toward healthy eating among young German adults who live in a dependent arrangement within the family home, perhaps encouraging the young adult to be an influencer in food purchases. Furthermore, it is suggested that social marketing campaigns that educate young adults about food-related activities, such as budgeting, preparation and cooking, in readiness for, or in the early stages of, their transition to independent living would yield positive results. The motivation component of social marketing may also be informed by the research findings. Specifically, persuasive messages that correspond with Sheth and Frazier's inducement process may encourage healthier eating. Originality/value ‐ Being a relatively unexplored area, the findings are novel and provide valuable insights for the implementation of an inducement process for planned social change as well as informing the education and motivation elements of intervention strategies.