Freedom: students find the word takes on a new meaning when they start their freshman year at a university. Suddenly, they have all kinds of new responsibilities—everything from deciding which classes to take and waking themselves up on time to choosing which foods to nourish their bodies with. Figuring out how to be healthy in college is one of the biggest responsibilities of all.
“Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” “don’t skip meals,” “choose whole grains over white or enriched grains.” These tips for eating healthy have been drilled into most students from a young age, but college poses several challenges to such advice. Many students would like to put themselves on a healthy eating schedule, but they feel their classes do not allow for it. Late night studying, classes scheduled at mealtimes, and dining halls can all lead students to less than stellar choices food-wise.
Cafeterias often play a large part in when and what a student is able to eat.
While you don’t necessarily have to eat breakfast right off the bat, it is best to eat before you realize you are famished. Skipping breakfast can cause you to veer away from any healthy eating tips you’ve learned and toward snacking on (or devouring) whatever is currently available. Some of the best breakfast options available at most cafeterias include fresh fruit (try to avoid the kind packed in syrup), light yogurt, oatmeal and fiber-rich cereals with nonfat milk, English muffins (with jam), and egg whites. It is best to avoid caloric giants like bagels (especially when loaded with cream cheese or butter), pastries (even “low fat” muffins), and greasy breakfast meats. Lunch and dinner options for your healthy eating schedule might include a salad packed with vegetables and lean deli meat (like turkey, or you might try beans) or grilled chicken, a sandwich wrapped in a lettuce bun (as opposed to its high calorie, oversized counterpart), and baked or grilled fish. Deli salads (like tuna or chicken), creamy and cheesy pasta dishes, and soups that aren’t broth-based are best avoided.
Snack foods are another area to be aware of when learning how to be healthy in college. While one may be tempted by the chips and candy bars provided by campus vending machines, they are not exactly healthy snacks in college (or elsewhere). What you need for college are better options that can easily be kept in your dorm and brought to class, such as snack bars with lots of protein and fiber, light string cheese and yogurt, jerky, fresh fruit and cut veggies (with salsa or hummus for dipping–put your mini fridge to use!), soup, and even fat free popcorn. Also, be aware of the amount of alcohol, energy drinks, and even juice that you’re drinking—try to stick to water for the majority of the day.
If you find “healthy” foods to be too boring—mix it up! You don’t have to eat steamed veggies all the time; try adding spicy mustard, hot sauce, or a side of teriyaki to dip them in. If you’re bored of your morning yogurt, why not make a parfait by layering it with cereal or oatmeal and fruit. Oatmeal doesn’t have to include cinnamon or raisins—experiment with nut butters and jellies or a few chocolate chips and coconut. Do you find yourself craving Egg McMuffins from McDonald’s? Make your own!
Other healthy eating tips to keep in mind for how to be healthy in college include staying active, whether that means walking or biking to class or trying a new fitness class with a friend, keeping track of what you eat (not necessarily every day, but it’s a good idea to check in with yourself every once in a while), and getting enough sleep. After all, learning how to be healthy in college involves finding the right balance for you. A slice of pizza won’t hurt you or go straight to your thighs, but a habit of partying every weekend without cutting back on treats or exercising a little more once in a while may eventually catch up to you. Just as weight isn’t put on overnight, it won’t disappear in an afternoon either.