Healthy College Eating: Tips From a New Grad

Written by Tess O’Brien and Edited by Sue Rose, MS, RD, LDN
hleathy college eating tips

Now that you’ve been in college for a few months, you may find it challenging to eat healthy. Based on my experience, I often blamed my irregular schedule, super-tight budget, lack of sleep, and insubstantial meal plan. Adjusting to the college lifestyle is not easy and it may seem that weight gain or “malnutrition” are inevitable. However, utilizing tips for healthy college eating will help you be mindful in seeking healthier, accessible options on campus.

The first few years: on-campus living and dining hall tips

During your first year at college, you may be living in a 130-square foot dorm room that doesn’t provide you with many options for food storage. It is also common for 1st year and on-campus students to depend on a meal plan that is strictly valid for dining halls which are not typically recognized for providing nutritious options. Thus, the first year or two of college are probably the most difficult time to achieve a healthy eating routine, let alone adjust to a new style of eating altogether. Here are some personal tips for healthy college eating that helped me during the initial years spent eating dorm food.

My personal tips for healthy college eating as you begin college

  • Keep a loaf of whole grain bread in your dorm. Buy peanut or almond butter for your bread.
  • Drink plant-based milk! Milk alternatives such as almond milk can be purchased in single servings. No refrigeration is necessary until the seal is broken.
  • Store canned goods anywhere there’s space.
  • Enjoy a microwaved sweet potato. Poke holes in the skin with a fork, microwave for 5-6 minutes, and top with black beans or salsa!
  • Cold cereals and oats can be stored in a dry environment and last for a long time. These staples are good sources of iron and fiber, which are important nutrients for college students.
  • Buy apples and bananas in various stages of ripeness for snacks.
  • Purchase nuts in bulk. Raw unprocessed nuts are the most nutritious.
  • Pack your mini fridge full of fruits and vegetables!
  • Buy green or herbal tea bags and microwave water as the boiling/heating method.
  • Most dining halls provide a salad bar, so utilize it and add as much color to your plate as possible. Color is key to a healthier diet.
  • Skip the heavier salad dressings. Instead, opt for a more vinegar-based dressing. Try red wine vinegar mixed with a small amount of olive oil and seasonings.
  • Add beans (kidney or black) or chickpeas to your salad as a source of protein rich fiber.
  • Keep your water bottle full and drink plenty. Aim to skip sugary drinks.
  • Stay focused on portion control to prevent overeating.

The last few years: off campus living and apartment eating tips

healthy college eating tips

You are now living on your own and don’t have to depend on a meal plan or limiting yourself to a mini fridge for perishables. For some of you, retreating from your meal plan may be a relief. You are now free to expand your food options from outside of a dining hall. However, some of you may be uncertain on how to provide yourself with nutritious choices while dealing with a tight financial budget and time constraints. Personally, I was excited to move out of my dorm room and be in charge of my food options. However, I was a non-working, full-time student so I utilized these tips for healthy college eating that worked with my restrictive budget and schedule.

My personal tips for healthy college eating off campus

  • Find restaurants/stores that offer healthy options and student discounts. For example, Sweet Tomatoes gives students 10% off everything you can pack into your bowl at their salad bar!
  • Skip the dairy in your daily coffee and opt for a dairy-free option (almond, oat, coconut, soy). Tip: If there is a Whole Foods near you they don’t charge extra for dairy-free options!
  • Buy foods that can be prepared quickly and taken on the go (oatmeal, pre-made salads and wraps).
  •  I ate a lot of canned soups while in college. My favorite was the Amy’s Organic Soup that was only about $2.50 per can and was enough to fill me up. Be sure to check labels for the sodium content though, as canned soup can be loaded.
  • Always carry healthy snacks with you throughout the day so you aren’t craving junk food when you finally get home from the library. Here’s a list of 50 calorie snacks.
  • Some grocery stores offer a small discount when you bring your own bags to carry your groceries (Whole Foods, Trader Joes, Target).
  • Obviously, alcohol consumption is not healthy and is often referred to as “empty calories” due to the lack of nutrients. If you do choose to drink alcohol, avoid sugary drinks. Instead, opt for a lighter alternative such as a vodka soda with fresh lime.
  • After a few evening alcoholic drinks, treat yourself well. Drink plenty of water, eat foods high in nutrients, and eat a healthy snack before bed!

Grocery store tips for easier healthy eating at a savings

  • Eggs are super inexpensive- even organic and cage-free eggs can be priced around $4.00 a dozen! I’d often hard-boil an entire carton at a time and eat a few of them throughout the day to keep me satisfied.
  •  Buy frozen fruits and vegetables! In fact, frozen fruits and vegetables are actually picked when they’re perfectly ripe so they still have all the nutritional value and flavor. They are also reasonably affordable and easy to store in your freezer for very long periods of time. Frozen fruits are perfect for a fast and nutritious smoothie recipe.
  • Adding a plant-based protein option to your grocery list can be significantly cheaper than buying animal products. While you don’t necessarily have to be a vegetarian to maintain a healthy diet, you can seriously save some cash by going meatless a few days a week.
  • Buy food in bulk such as rice, pastas, and nuts. This will not only save you money, but also save you time consuming trips to the grocery store.
  • If you have roommates, consider investing in a food delivery service (Hello Fresh, Blue Apron, etc.) and splitting the cost. It’s a fun activity to cook your meals together and it’s super convenient! It’s delivered every week right to you with pre-measured out ingredients and instructions on how to make every meal. Also, it will save you a trip to the grocery store, giving you more time to study or have fun with your friends.

Planning your eating at home and out

cooking at home

  • Meal prep is a key strategy! Meal prepping helped me so much in college because after spending long periods of time preparing meals for myself, I felt less tempted to eat out.
  • Obviously you don’t want your healthy eating getting in the way of going out to eat with your friends. I feel I’ve been most successful when I look up the menu beforehand to make sure there is something healthy that I can eat on the menu. If you find there isn’t anything on the menu, you can always suggest a different restaurant or eat a meal beforehand and just order something small. I try to never let my dietary choices get in the way of having a fun night with my friends. When I plan accordingly, I always seem to find an option that works out for everyone. Here are some more tips for healthier dining out.
  • Try to avoid late-night junk food snacks by keeping plenty of healthy snack options at your disposal. You will save money and feel better the next day.
  • Don’t 100% limit yourself to only eating super healthy foods all the time. Treat yourself to your favorites every once in a while. Everything in moderation is key.
  • Lastly, train yourself to bring a reusable water bottle with you everywhere. Drinking enough water and staying hydrated plays a very important role in staying healthy. It’s also great for your skin (more eating tips for great skin)!

Take-Away

While college is all about adjusting to a new and independent lifestyle, it’s OK to have a less than perfect diet. Being on your own and learning how to nourish yourself appropriately are important college lessons too!  A healthy diet is a challenge at college, but key to preventing that feared “Freshman 15.”  Knowing how to make better dorm food choices and provide for healthier food options are important in the beginning of college as you navigate your first few years on campus. As you branch out on your own as an upperclassman, shopping know how and planning are key. Learning healthy eating strategies now will be a useful lesson for your entire life.

Please share your healthy eating tips for college! And, please share this post if you learned something.

20 Reasons to Eat Your Carbs and Forgo the Beef!

If you have a beef with carbs, you might want to rethink avoiding them. There are technically many reasons to actually eat the right amount of carbs. For whatever reason, the topic of carbohydrates fuels a firestorm of controversy. Look anywhere on the Internet, and you will find a preponderance of carbohydrate criticism and vilification. It’s true that not all carbs are the same. The carbs which should be emphasized for health are the complex carbohydrates. These carbs are high in nutrient density. Complex carbs include lentils, grains, fruits, and vegetables. 20 of the many reasons to eat your carbs are listed, so check out the list!

20 reasons to eat your carbs instead of beef

Penne with Chickpeas, tomato, and feta

  20 guilt-free reasons to eat nutrient dense carbs

  1. They provide a rich source of B-complex vitamins not found in other food categories.

  2. In the form of fruits and vegetables, they are an excellent source of vitamin C.

  3. Complex carbs provide significant sources of potassium.

  4. They are naturally low in fat.

  5.  Provide health protecting phytonutrients found almost exclusively in complex carbs.

  6. Complex carbs are high in fiber to aid digestion and prevent constipation.

  7. Fiber-rich complex carbs aid in blood glucose control.

  8. Complex carbs fill you up and help you stick with a weight loss diet.

  9. Sufficient carbohydrates prevent ketosis.

  10. Carbohydrates spare the protein to function in growth, healing, and repair.

  11. When decreasing carbs, you then need to increase your calories from another nutrient such as animal protein, which in excessive amounts may weaken bones.

  12. Cut your carbs, then you need to increase your calories from other nutrients such as fat. This may lead to plaque build up on your arteries.

  13. A low carbohydrate intake might increase cortisol levels. This may increase risk of some cancers.

  14. A low carbohydrate intake might lead to an increased animal protein intake, which can increase painful gout.

  15. You need carbohydrates in your diet to make glycogen.This is your storage fuel for endurance athletic events and can be a fuel source if food is not available.

  16. Dairy products are nutrient dense carbohydrates which have important nutrients for strong bones and normal blood pressure.

  17. Most Americans do not consume enough magnesium. Many good sources of magnesium are complex carbs like spinach, bran cereal, beans, lentils, and dairy products.

  18. Strong bones need more than just calcium. And, many of the nutrients necessary for strong bones-vitamin K, various B vitamins, and magnesium are readily available from complex carbs.

  19. As food, they create less of a carbon footprint than growing animals to eat.

  20. They are satisfying and taste good! Don’t you miss them?

For these reasons, emphasizing unprocessed nutrient dense carbs such as lentils, beans, fruits, vegetables, fat-free dairy, and whole grain foods is not controversial, it is intelligent eating for the 21st century.

 

 

Don’t Buy Shrimp From Thailand: Save the Fishing Cat

 

Exotic fishing cat killed by shrimp farming in Thailand

Exotic fishing cat pushed to extinction by shrimp farmers

Not very long ago, I was in a major Chicago suburban grocery store planning to buy some frozen shrimp. With the globalization of our food supply, I am in the habit of checking where a food item originates from in order to be “respectful” to the planet. I would prefer to avoid purchasing seafood from the other side of the world. This shopping day, I was actually unable to find any frozen shrimp other than shrimp from Thailand. I put the shrimp back, as I just had an unsettled feeling about making such a purchase. So, why am I saying don’t buy shrimp from Thailand? The beautiful exotic fishing cat seen in the photo is becoming extinct due to the shrimp farming in Thailand.

 

Extinction of an exotic fishing cat when you buy shrimp from Thailand

This week, tuning into the late hour US ABC Nightline news show, there was a story about a beautiful exotic cat from Southeast Asia which is becoming extinct. This wild cat, called the fishing cat, is a native to the wetland areas of Southeast Asia. These same wetland areas of Southeast Asia are also being utilized for the farming of shrimp. And, much of that shrimp ends up in the United States. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen frozen shrimp in a grocery outlet that is not from Thailand! This includes all my local Chicago area grocery store chain shopping options : Whole Foods, Jewel, Walmart, Target, Marianos, and Trader Joe’s.

According to the ABC Nightline story, the shrimp farmers take over the wetlands and encroach on the native home of the fishing cat. Now, the fishing cat population has declined to near extinction. As this exotic web-footed cat actually swims in the water for food, this encroachment by shrimp farmers has affected the natural habitat as well as the ability to access fish for food. With diminished capacity to find fish to eat, fishing cats are often forced to hunt for alternative food sources. They may resort to farmers’ livestock, which then allows them to meet their death with a shotgun.

Shop locally

Regardless of how you connect to this story, it points out there are multiple good reasons to purchase food locally. If purchasing shrimp raised closer to home stops extinction of a species, that means a lot to me. If it means our planet degrades less quickly, it should mean the world to you.