How to Eat Healthy in College
For those headed to – or back to – college, it can be a nerve wracking time of change. New housing, new friends, new classes . . . new start. Oh, and did I mention new struggles such as dealing with dining?
I may not be able to help you decide which sorority to rush or if he is really into you or not or how much time it will take you to cram for that exam, but I can definitely help you avoid the freshman (or sophomore or junior or senior) 15.
I want to give you a little gift that I hope will keep healthy eating high on your priority list since your brain is bound to be overloaded with other things.
Really, you’ll come to find out that being prepared is 90% of what you do in life, so if you are prepared to eat well and know where healthy foods are always available, the follow through will come easily. The same lesson can be applied to your schoolwork, but I’ll let your parents point that out to you.
How to Eat Healthy in College
Eat breakfast, even if you wake up at lunchtime. Even if you wake up at noon, begin every day with a healthy breakfast that includes a high fiber starch (or fruit) and lean protein or healthy fat.
Not only will it help to help rev your metabolism, stabilize your blood sugar, control your hunger, and boost your energy, but studies have shown (over and over) that students who eat a healthy breakfast do better in their classes. Even if you don’t have time to have a “sit down” breakfast, keep healthy items in your dorm room for on-the-go breakfasts. For example:
- Oatmeal packets
- Individual containers of milk (you can even get individual containers of almond milk!)
- Natural peanut butter (also try individual packets of nut butters)
- Fruit (grab a piece from the dining hall to save as a snack later)
- Healthy hot cereal cups such as Earnest Eats (you can always find some hot water!)
- Greek yogurt
- Individual hummus containers
- Individual portions of cheese such as cheese sticks
- Hardboiled eggs (can buy pre-cooked or hard boil a big batch in your dorm’s kitchen at once)
- Individual chia seed packs
- Nuts (such as raw cashews, almonds and walnuts)
- For makeshift breakfast ideas, try:
- Hard boiled eggs, cheese stick and a piece of fruit
- Oatmeal, packet of nut butter
- Apple, piece of cheese
- Yogurt, nuts and chia seeds
Navigate the dining hall with healthy finesse. On your way or before you go to the dining hall, think of a “meal game plan”. Are you headed to the salad bar or the sandwich line? Are going for the hot entree or the soup station? Whichever you choose, prep yourself before you walk in and stick to the game plan. Treat this like you are prepping to write a paper or studying for your chemistry test. It’s just as important and definitely more fun! Some tips for whichever way you go:
- Take the grilled chicken (or burger or veggie burger) off of its bun, and place it on top of vegetables from the salad bar to make a grilled chicken salad.
- Add extra vegetables like beets or roasted peppers from the salad bar to an open faced turkey sandwich or wrap to “beef” it up and make more filling without loading up on more cals.
- If the hot “main” appears uber loaded with some buttery sauce, then skip it, grab the hot veggies only and add lean protein from the sandwich station to your plate.
- Pour cereal in a small coffee cup instead of those family sized bowls and couple it with protein. It’s hard to judge how much to pour when cereal is served in huge self-serve dispensers. This will help. Better yet, go for hot cereal like oatmeal which is a better choice than most of the cold cereals in those dispensers.
- Always choose seltzer instead of sodas and juices from the drink dispensers. Those sugary drinks are loaded with calories, which are commonly underestimated. Plus, when free refills are available, one easily turns into two or three, which can easily add an extra 300 sugary calories to your day.
- Don’t hang in the dining hall. Use it to eat. Lingering can cause you to eat more than you need just because you are there. Move the social gathering to another spot.
- Don’t forget to look around and assess what is really available. Often there are many options that are baked, broiled, steamed, roasted, or grilled. This will make it easier to avoid foods that are fried, sautéed, breaded, crispy, creamed, batter-dipped, or buttered.
Make sure you take exercise 101. When you plan your semester and know your schedule, plug in where and when you will exercise, just as if it were a class you couldn’t miss. That’s right, treat physical activity in your schedule with the same importance as your classes, study sessions, group meetings, social events, and other important appointments.
Whether you go to the gym, walk to class, join an intramural sports team, or take a fitness class for credit, daily exercise can improve your mood, help relieve stress and anxiety, increase your energy, promote better sleep, and help you maintain your weight.
Keep your caffeine in check. While 1-2 cups of coffee per day are fine, don’t depend on soda, coffee or energy drinks as a substitute for sleep. This can actually backfire and cause insomnia, disrupt concentration, and cause restlessness and anxiety!
Instead, try to get adequate sleep (8 hours a night), and take mental breaks while studying to refresh yourself. A good, consistent exercise regimen and consuming nutrient dense snacks throughout the day will help keep your energy up too.
If you’re rolling your eyes, then listen to this. Research shows the less sleep you get, the more weight you gain. Yep, the freshman 15 we always blame on late night pizza and beer could actually have a little something to do with college students’ crazy sleep habits, too!
Never leave home without healthy snacks. Keep healthy snacks on hand to avoid going to the vending machines. You need snacks to fuel your brain and stabilize your blood sugar.
Set yourself up for success by stocking your ‘pantry’ and make sure there is always a healthful and non perishable snack in your bag. Ask loved ones to send you healthy care packages and write down the snacks you’d like to receive. They’ll love to do it. Promise. Some examples of non perishables that you can keep in your dorm room (in addition to the breakfast items above) are:
- Trail mix (ask mom to pull together your favorite nuts, shredded coconut, dried apricots, sunflower seeds, and dried cranberries, and then portion into ¼ cup containers
- No sugar added dried fruit and dehydrated vegetables
- High fiber crackers
- Seaweed snacks
- Popcorn (invest in an air-popper – even easier than having a microwave and much healthier!)
- Bars (go for nut based bars such as Kind)
- Tea (chamomile, green and mint)
- Beef, tuna or salmon healthy jerky (you can find grass fed beef and wild salmon)
I hope you have a great semester! Prepare yourself to be successful and you will be cum laude in the healthy diet department in no time. Practice the grown up habit of making healthful choices now and they’ll set the foundation for when you hit the working world.
But, all that said, enjoy sleeping late, having Fridays off and living with friends as much as possible right now, because you’ll miss those collegiate perks after graduation.