Perhaps one of the biggest challenges that students face when transitioning to college is that of eating healthy.
We are tasked with adjusting to rigorous academic coursework, making new friends, holding part-time jobs, and joining student organizations – alongside everything else that comes with growing up (like doing our own laundry and making sure that we get out of bed before 11:00 AM). It is understandable that, in the midst of all of this, making healthy choices often drifts from our list of priorities.
Thankfully, I have learned a few things about eating healthy while on a budget and when crunched for time throughout my two years as a college student.
For many of us, our first year of college is the first time in our lives that we truly have control over what, when, and even where we eat. Because of this, it is easy to lose structure and regularity in meal schedules. Oftentimes, we settle for eating whatever is the easiest and quickest or for skipping meals entirely.
Take time early on to figure out what mealtime is going to look like for you. Will you have a meal plan and be eating at dining halls? Will you be reliant on your dorm room’s microwave and minifridge? Will you be doing your own grocery shopping and cooking in your own kitchen?
Once you have an answer to the questions above, it is much easier to explore your options and learn how to prioritize your health during mealtime.
Conquering the Dorm Room and the Dining Hall
Tip #1: Learn to buffet ‘better’
Let’s be real. The endless buffets offered by most campus dining halls seem like a dream come true for most college students. When you swipe in, try to gravitate towards the healthy options that are offered. Try out vegetarian and vegan dishes, load up on fruits and vegetables, and enjoy ice cream and cookies in moderation.
Tip #2: Drink more water
It may seem obvious that drinking water is good for your health, but many of us are not drinking as much as we should be. Fill up on water rather than sugary sodas or juices whenever you sit down for a meal in the dining hall. Carrying a reusable bottle with you at all times as it is good for you AND good for the environment. It’s a win-win!
Tip #3: Dining hall ‘take-out’
If you are able to, I recommend taking reusable containers with you to the dining hall. Fill up your containers with salads, cooked vegetables, or even rice and pasta dishes to store in your minifridge to have meals ready to go right in your dorm room. Convenient and frugal! You can also grab some fruits to go to snack on throughout the day instead of stopping by the nearest vending machine for a Snickers.
Tackling the Off-Campus Kitchen
Tip #1: Limit how often you eat out
Although it is tempting to eat out when you are rushing from class to class or holed away in the library, it is important to limit how often you indulge fast food. Not only are these foods less nutritious, they are more expensive than homemade options in the long run.
Tip #2: Conscious grocery shopping
When it comes to grocery shopping, I recommend visiting stores like Aldi that source delivered-daily produce, fresh meats and fish, and carry an extensive line of organics, gluten-free and vegan foods for affordable prices. Grab your reusable shopping bags and choose to buy foods that will nourish you (and that you know you will not let go to waste in the back of your fridge or cupboard).
Tip #3: Meal prep
Eating meals at home does not have to be inconvenient when you are willing to give meal prepping a try. Find a day that works for you each week, perhaps Sunday, that you can set aside time to prepare various meals to store in your fridge and heat up. I recommend making several servings of overnight oats for a quick and easy breakfast that you can take on the go. Brown rice, lentil pastas, chicken or tofu, and various vegetables are great to cook and have as lunches throughout the week.
Figuring out how to eat healthy in college is no easy task, but it is possible. Whether it is in your dining hall, dorm room, or kitchen, I hope that you keep the tips and tricks that I have learned throughout my time as a student in mind.
Prioritize eating healthy now. Your mind and body will thank you later!