Many college students have always relied on their parents to make sure they eat healthy, so when left to make their own meal choices, they often take the wrong path. Our nutrition professionals provide healthy eating tips for college students to help them avoid gaining the dreaded freshman 15.
“I think that one of the major reasons why students gain the pounds during their first year is because they don't have anyone telling them what to eat,” says Odette Smith-Ransome, faculty chair of Culinary Arts /Hotel Restaurant Management at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh. “Usually this is the first extended period of time when they are on their own, so this gives them the freedom to make their own selections, some of which can be pretty bad.”
Trish Britten, a nutritionist at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion, says with all of the food options available to students on college campuses, it’s easy to not notice how much you’re eating if you’re not paying attention.
“There’s so much socialization that goes on around food in college,” Britten says.
Smith-Ransome says another reason college students don’t always eat healthy is because the unhealthy meal choices are often much cheaper than healthier options.
“Instead of going grocery shopping, they go shoe shopping and then end up eating Raman noodles for a week until they can get some more money from home,” Smith-Ransome says.
EAT HEALTHY BY FOLLOWING A REGULAR MEAL SCHEDULE
Smith-Ransome says it is extremely important for students to maintain a regular eating schedule.
“Your body has to adjust everytime you change your eating habits,” Smith-Ransome says. “Not eating in the morning can make you sluggish halfway through your morning classes and then by the time you get to lunch, you are ravenous. Then you overeat at lunch and then you are stuffed and fall asleep in your afternoon class.”
Britten says it is also important for students to keep a regular eating schedule to monitor their food intake.
“When you’re eating randomly you don’t have any clue as to how much you ate,” Britten says. “Know at the end of the day what you’ve eaten.”
Many college students also regularly eat a 4th meal, or a midnight snack, which Britten says can lead to overeating.
Britten says that students regularly eating a 4th meal have to be careful that they build it into their diet. She suggests healthy eating tips such as cutting back on portions at other meals to avoid consuming excess calories.
HEALTHY EATING TIPS FOR STUDENTS LIVING IN A COLLEGE DORM
Smith-Ransome says that students living in college dorms, without access to a kitchen, but with a campus meal plan, need to choose wisely in order to eat healthy with the choices available to them.
“We all learned about balanced diets in grammar school, selecting foods from the various food groups is important for keeping your body and mind functioning,” Smith-Ransome says. “One of the easiest ways to do this is to think about eating a rainbow. The more colors that you can put on your plate, the better. If you think about it, the reds, oranges, yellows, and greens will all come from vegetables. When you look at a white plate you are probably getting too many carbs and not enough fiber.”
Britten advises students to plan out their meals in advance, if possible, to strike a balance between eating foods they like, and foods that have the nutrients they need.
“All those foods that look so good you can have another time,” Britten says. “Not both of them today.”
In order to eat healthy, Britten suggests students use the USDA food tracker to assess their food intake and physical activity.
If students don’t choose what they’re going to eat beforehand, Britten says at the end of the day they should assess what they’ve eaten throughout the day, to make sure they’re eating properly.
Students also need to be careful with the amount of snack foods – like cookies, candies, and chips – that they keep in their dorm room, Britten says.
“Clear out the ones that are just there because they’re there,” Britten says.
She says that students should keep only one high-calorie snack that they really enjoy in their dorm room.
“Pick one snack that you can go to, that a small amount is going to be really satisfying,” Britten says.
Britten’s healthy eating tips for snack foods include keeping items such as whole grain crackers, dried fruits, fruits in snack packs, unsweetened apple sauce, yogurts, fresh fruit, and fresh vegetables on hand for snacking.
HEALTHY EATING TIPS FOR APARTMENT LIVING
Many college students live in an apartment and don’t have a campus meal plan to rely upon. Smith-Ransome advises these students to think about what they’re going to eat before making a trip to the grocery store.
“What I find is the easiest thing to do is to sit down and write out your menu for a week. Then write your shopping list from that,” Smith-Ransome says. “This can help you to avoid those impulse buys that can wreck your budget. It will also help you to stretch your food so that you have what you need until the next shopping day.”
Britten agrees that students should spend time thinking about what kinds of things they’d like to cook over the next couple of weeks, so that they are sure to have the ingredients they need when they’re ready to cook.
In order to both eat healthy and save money at the grocery store, Britten says that students can use canned or frozen fruits and vegetables as an alternative to fresh ones. She says to look for no salt added or reduced-sodium products.
“Overall, the most important thing is planning and having regular food shopping,” Britten says.
Contributing writer for EDMC.