How You Can Eat Healthy In College
How You Can Eat Healthy In College
Written by: Kat Gal
Tip for moms & dads: share this with your college-age kid!
I still remember my times in college. They were some of the most amazing years of my life, making friends, running college cross country and track and trying out different things. Yes, I also enjoyed my classes and absolutely loved learning new things.
I also remember my initial fear of the Freshmen 15 and frustrations with our cafeteria food. Eating healthy in college seemed like an intimidating and even impossible task. Eventually I figured that it was far from impossible.
It may be the first time in your life that you are away from home, on your own and having to make decisions about what you should (and should not) eat. You may be surrounded by junk food, free snacks and unhealthy choices. You may be facing a busy schedule, eating on the go, staying up late and tempted to curl up with a pizza or nachos way past midnight. You may not have access to a proper kitchen and you are surely facing financial challenges being on a college budget.
It may seem like college is there to set you up for a food failure. But let me assure you, it is not the case. It is absolutely possible to eat healthy on a college-budget – even if you are living at the dorms.
Here Are 11 Proven Tips To Eat Healthy In College
1. Stock Up On Healthy Staples
Just because you only have a mini-fridge and are unable to shop at the most expensive health food stores, it doesn’t mean that your dorm room diet should be full of high-calorie, highly processed and unhealthy snacks.
Stock up on healthy snacks with a longer shelf life, such as seeds (eg. chia, hemp, flax), nuts (eg. brazil nuts, almonds, cashews), oats, dates, dried figs and other sun-dried fruits, raw snack bars and green juice powders (like Organifi).
Stock up on fruits and vegetables that can stay around longer. Apples, citrus fruits, pears, carrots, beets and celery are excellent options to keep around. Keep some hummus and healthy nut butters around for dipping. You can even make your own hummus if you own a tiny blender. Shop in the bulk aisle and take some things (like fruits) from your cafeteria for later.
2. Always Choose Fruit To Go
Most college cafeterias don’t allow students to take food out of the dining halls. But let’s get real, most students still do. There are food items that are fair-game or easy to take with. Make use of this opportunity and always take some fruits with. Apples, oranges and bananas are the easiest options. They are easy to keep around for a snack later or keep in your room for another time.
3. Get A Mini Blender
A mini blender is so small that it can fit into even the tiniest dorm room and it is a fair game to keep around. Blenders are great to make green smoothies, shakes, cold soups (like gazpacho), hummus and other dips in. You can even make some raw energy bars by mixing some dates and nuts (look for bliss bar, raw energy bar and raw brownie recipes on the internet).
It is a bit more messy but if you have a nut milk bag or a strainer, you can even make green juice with your blender as well.
4. Make Your Dining Hall Just Another Classroom
The point of college is to get an education. But education goes beyond the classroom. Get educated about the food offered at your dining hall. Get in touch with your dining hall manager for nutritional information. Go beyond learning about calories: check out the macro- and micronutrient ratios. This will help you to make informed decisions.
5. Listen To Your Body
Let’s face it, food is everywhere – in college particularly. There are snacks offered at every event and campus activity. There are vending machines all around. Your mom might’ve stock up your dorm room with goodies, being worried you may starve. Staying up late and living an erratic schedule can easily lead to late-night snacking, 2am pizzas and mindless snacking while studying.
Rather than giving into peer pressure or taking up on every free food opportunity, learn to listen to your body. Eat throughout the day. Learn to eat until you are full and eat when you are hungry. If you are feeling hungry, check in if it is true hunger, or rather boredom, emotional hunger, or perhaps thirst. Do eat, however. Restriction can lead to binges and overeating later in the day.
6. Drink Water Throughout The Day
Staying hydrated is extremely important for your health. When you are busy you may forget about it. Dehydration may lead to overeating and health issues. At times when you are hungry, you may actually be thirsty.
Always keep a water bottle handy. A good way to measure your water intake is by adding a new rubber band on your bottle every time to fill it up again. Aim to drink an equivalent of 8-10 glasses (8 oz) water a day. As a bonus, start your day with lemon water. It is extremely cleansing and healthy, not to mention that it’s easy to keep a few lemons around in your dorm room.
7. Experiment With Your Food Choices
Pay attention to your body – what it likes and what it doesn’t. We are all different with different needs. There is no one way to go. Pay attention to how a particular food affects your mood, energy, sleep and digestion. A food diary can help you discover what works for your body and what doesn’t. It can even help you recognize possible food sensitivities and allergies.
8. Eat Whole Foods High In Fiber
Whether you are eating at the dining halls, at a friend’s house, at a restaurant, snacking on the go, or cooking yourself, aim to choose whole foods high in fiber. Avoid processed foods and refined sugar as much as possible. Go for the salad bar. Choose steamed vegetables and baked potatoes and vegetable soups. Skip the overly processed dressings and use tahini, hummus and vinegar instead. Eat plenty of fruits.
Think mainly plant-based whole foods, like vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, pseudo grains and whole grains. A great tip is to take along some extras options, such as tahini or healthy seeds to supplement what’s available at the dining hall.
9. Find Your Food Confidence
Learning to eat healthy and making good decisions is a journey. Think of it as a fun learning experience. When you are making good decisions, you are also teaching yourself that you can be trusted to make good decisions. This will increase your self-confidence – not only with your food choices, but outside of food as well.
10. Establish A Routine
While college is the time when you are dealing with a packed and often changing schedule, it is still possible to creating a routine. Check your schedule and see what’s possible. Make sure to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and keep snacks around as needed. Experiment and learn what works for your body and particular situation.
By establishing a routine your body will be able to relax and get confident that it will get fed regularly. You will be less likely to overeat and snack on junk foods and will eliminate food worries.
11. Practice The 90-10 Approach And Enjoy Your Food
Completely depriving yourself of all your childhood favorites and salivating while other students are stuffing their face with chips, ice cream and pizza will end up being counterproductive. It may lead to frustration, sadness, or worse yet, obsessive restrictions, binge eating and even serious eating disorders.
Aim to eat healthy 90% of the time and keep your options open for the remaining 10%. If you end up eating completely healthy for the remaining 10%, good for you, it is the best for your health. But if you want to grab a slice on a Saturday night, crave a chocolate croissant, eat birthday cake at a party, or heck, occasionally want a candy bar, it is fair game. The point is to limit your processed and unhealthy food intake and eat it is as little as possible.
However, when you do choose to eat a slice of cake, some nachos, or candy bars, feel no guilt. Enjoy it thoroughly. Embrace even your unhealthy food choices. If you enjoy your food without guilt it will likely limit your intake and lead to more satisfaction rather than food binges.
If you follow these tips, you will see that it is not impossible, in fact, it is easy to eat healthy while in college and living on a budget. Make sure you get enough sleep (8 hours a day minimum), have a de-stressing practice (meditation, journaling and yoga are all great ideas) and get some exercise (30-60 minutes 5-6 days a week) along with healthy eating practices and you will be golden.
What tips do you have for college students to eat healthy? What are your biggest challenges keeping up a healthy lifestyle in college? How can we help you live a healthier life? Let us know in the comments below. As always, we’d love to hear from you.
Kat Gál is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. She is a lifelong learner who lives outside of her comfort zones stretching her boundaries and discovering beauty around the world. She is a Certified Holistic Health and Life Coach who encourages others to embrace their unique authentic selves, follow their heart and find their own version of freedom in life.
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