Students face a variety of challenges to eating healthy. Many live in dorms with cafeterias that don’t let them create their own meals. Other students live in apartments and may not know how to cook, or not have fully equipped kitchens. Class schedules often play a part in poor eating habits, and students often aren’t able to make cafeteria breakfast hours. They might also have short breaks between classes, requiring them to eat on the run. Despite these challenges, it’s easier than you think for for students to eat healthy with a little planning.
Make Breakfast Convenient
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, for both physical and mental health reasons. Unfortunately, many students prefer to sleep in or get as much sleep as possible before heading to their first, early class. The key to a healthy breakfast for students is to have plenty of non-perishable convenience foods on hand each morning that don’t require cooking.
Many granola or energy bars, eaten with some juice provide sufficient calories and nutrients to start the day. Fresh fruit, such as apples, oranges and bananas will last unrefrigerated for several days and provide a portable nutrient boost. If you have access to a refrigerator, have a quick bowl of whole grain cereals with low-fat milk. Low-fat yogurt is another good source of vitamins and minerals. Keep “just-add-hot-water” oatmeal packets on hand. You can add tap water and finish in a microwave. Combine more than one food or drink to get more than the few calories found in a snack bar or piece of fruit.
If you can’t make it back to the dorm for lunch, you may end up eating fast food. If you can’t eat healthy meals, try to make what you are grabbing healthier with substitutions. If you’re getting a burger, skip the cheese and mayonnaise and ask for extra tomatoes. If you’re ordering pizza, forget the sausage and pepperoni and top it with veggies. If you have access to an all-you-can eat cafeteria, start with a low-fat soup and a salad with plenty of vegetables and low-fat dressing before you go for the hot meats and sides. Filling up on healthy soup and salad first will most likely reduce your desire to go back for a second serving of foods that have saturated fat and cholesterol.
Eat Dinner in Courses
Most students have the easiest time fitting dinner into their schedules. If you haven’t eaten well during the day, you may be tempted to overeat. Follow the soup-and-salad advice recommended for eating lunch. Dinner is also the time you can balance out your daily nutrient intake. If you’ve had pancakes for breakfast and pasta for lunch,eat more protein for dinner.
Cold water fish (salmon, tuna, trout, mackerel) is a good source of protein and contains “good” fat in the form of Omega-3 fatty acids. If there’s a taco bar, consider a veggie taco or bean burrito instead of using fatty ground beef. If you can cook, making a burger with ground turkey is no different than using ground beef and tastes great. Make sure your turkey comes from the breast for the least amount of fat. If you’ve eaten mostly protein during the day, whole grain pasta with marinara sauce is a good choice for dinner. Skip the hamburger in the sauce, and avoid the white al fredo sauce to reduce saturated fats and cholesterol. If you’re having dinner in your dorm room, haven’t had breakfast, and had a high-protein lunch, consider “breakfast” for dinner in the form of cereal with some fresh fruit. If you have access to a microwave, try one of the many heart-healthy or vegetarian frozen dinners available in grocery stores.