When you’re heading to – or back to – college, there’s a lot to think about. New friends, dating, dorm rooms, sports, and classes: healthy eating can be low down on your list of priorities.
But as winter comes around, and flu and exhaustion loom, knowing how to eat healthy in college will suddenly seem more important.
Luckily, we’ve collected the best tips to help you stay strong in the midst of those early classes (and late nights).
Whether it’s getting your fruit and veg in the dining hall or putting together a nutritious breakfast in your dorm room, this guide will keep you fit and strong whilst working toward that perfect GPA.
Eating Healthy in College: Considerations
What is eating healthy?
Forget the freshman 15 – eating healthy as a college student doesn’t have to be about weight or calorie counts. It’s about nutrition, balanced diets, and making sure your body has the fuel it needs to remain healthy and happy.
As the nutritionist, Jennie Miremadi says, ‘The way you eat has an impact not only on how you look but also on how you feel.’
Eating a healthy diet means you’re getting the right balance of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins in every meal. Rather than meager portions, it looks like two or more servings of vegetables a day, a cup or two of fruit, some good servings of protein, and plenty of whole grains.
The MyPlate app – devised by the US department of agriculture – can help you get a sense of what a balanced meal looks like. It provides a handy plate visual that’s color-coordinated by food group, guiding you to create well-rounded meals with the right serving sizes.
Your body is your home, and it’s with you for the long run, so care for it!
Budgeting for eating healthy
Students are often stressed out by money. When you’re busy juggling classes, part-time jobs, and extracurriculars, it can seem impossible to stay on top of your finances.
But don’t fear – eating healthily on a budget is possible, and these tips are a good place to start.
To make sure you’re leaving enough in the piggy bank for rounded, healthy meals, we advise firstly coming up with a monthly budget. Here’s how:
1) Work out how much money is coming into your account every month, be it from loans, work, parents, or school bursaries.
2) Add up how much money you have to spend on fixed expenses, like rent, tuition, or your Netflix subscription.
3) Subtract these costs from your income.
4) Take a look at the amount of spending money you’re left with, and decide on a sensible amount for food. Don’t scrimp on this – remember, you need fuel! You can always chop and change this figure as you go along.
Staying budget conscious in the store is the next challenge. Luckily, a lot of superfoods – like eggs, oatmeal, rice, beans, fruits, and veggies – are cheap. Don’t shop on an empty stomach, and make a list to reduce the chances of expensive impulse purchases. For more ideas, check out this article on grocery shopping on a budget.
Making time for eating healthy
Not only is cash tight – as a college student, you’ll often find you’re short on time too.
Although it seems hard, making time for eating healthy is possible – and your body will thank you for it.
Whether it’s forfeiting that extra 15 minutes in bed for a nutrient-packed breakfast or giving yourself time between classes to hit the dining hall, keeping your belly full is the number one technique to maintain a focused mind. Hunger – tied directly to low blood sugar, which leads to fatigue and a drop in energy levels – can wreak havoc on your concentration.
Routine and planning are key to stay healthy and full throughout busy days on campus.
10 Ways to Eat Healthy in College
1) Eating in the dining hall
Eating in the dining hall can help you stay healthy, as well as taking away the stress of grocery shopping and every day meal preparation.
First of all, eating in the dining hall gets you out of your dorm room. You can arrange to meet friends, making mealtimes a social occasion rather than a chore. When eating in front of a laptop or TV is proven to harm health – blocking receptors in the brain that help to let us know we’re full – eating in the dining hall is also a great way to cut down your screen time.
To get the most out of eating in the dining hall, take advantage of all the culinary facilities your campus offers. Aside from larger communal dining halls, are there smaller, on the go spots that you can fit around your class schedule? Where serves healthy food that’ll keep you full?
Eating in the dining hall is also a great way to try new things. When loading your plate, hit the salad bar, and add a tiny bit of something you haven’t eaten before. This will help widen your culinary horizons and keep mealtimes interesting.
2) Routine eating
One of the most important things you can do to stay healthy at college is to get into a routine with your eating. Regular meals steady your blood sugar and help you avoid the mood swings and energy dips that come with sporadic eating.
Plus, in a time of so much change – new friends, new classes, and new bedrooms – getting into a steady meal routine can help you feel secure in your new environment.
Despite late-night studying and early morning bedtimes, do your best to stay on track. The number one rule is to make time for breakfast – even if you don’t wake up until 1 pm.
3) Choose water
Regular intake of water helps maintain gut health and aids in proper digestion, flushing toxins from your system. So – although fizzy drinks are tempting – try and opt out of juices and sugary soda as often as you can with your meals.
As well as keeping you energetic and focused, staying hydrated is proven to have huge benefits for your skin: preventing acne, reducing puffiness, and helping maintain an even skin tone.
If you find it tricky to keep track of your water intake, consider a water bottle with time markings (like this Mango BPA Free Sports Water Bottle).
If you’re feeling thirsty in your dorm room and water just won’t cut it, consider fruit teas like chamomile, peppermint, and lemon to satisfy that craving for something tasty whilst staying hydrated.
4) Batch cook
What’s worse than coming in from a long day of classes, and still having to plan and prepare your dinner? Nothing, that’s what. If you have kitchen facilities at your disposal, batch cooking is a great way around this.
One-pot dishes like stews or soups, or bakes like casseroles or lasagnas can keep you going through the week – and give you one less thing to worry about in the evening.
You can even turn it into a fun weekend activity – put some music on, get a coffee, and get cooking.
Even better, find some friends who you can start a dinner club with: get together once a week to cook and chat, and split the cost. Not only is this budget-friendly, cooking a group meal is a great way to keep your social life ticking over and stay healthy.
5) Healthy snacking
When you’re midway through a late-night library session, it’s easy to reach for a candy bar or energy drink when fatigue hits.
If you can, try and prepare healthy snacks for studying, like peanut butter and apple slices, rice cakes, or trail mix.
Fruits like blueberries are proven to improve cognitive performance, whilst nuts and grains will keep you fuller for longer.
Though it seems more difficult in the short term, your brain will thank you for it!
6) Food on the go
As NYU dietician Lisa Sassoon states, ‘if we walk around really hungry, we make poor decisions.’ It’s super important, therefore, to think about food-on-the-go ahead of time.
Every morning – or even the night before a busy day – work out your breaks and food stops. Is your rucksack filled with healthy snacks to eat throughout the day? Will you have a spare ten minutes to drop by the smoothie place on campus? Can you fit a piece of fruit or two in your purse?
Eating healthily requires preparation. Making sure you carry good, portable non-perishables is a sure-fire way to avoid impulse food purchases, keeping both your stomach and your budget happy.
7) Meal prep
As the adage goes; ‘fail to prepare, and prepare to fail’ – and with nutrition, it’s no different.
Meal prep takes the stress out of midweek cooking. Even something as simple as pre-cutting veggies for an easy one-pot dinner or pre-cooking a side of brown rice makes feeding yourself after class feel effortless. It helps you stick to your meal plans, rather than giving in to fast food and microwave dinners.
If you’re lacking kitchen facilities, consider investing in a mini-fridge (like this AstroAl 4 Litre Thermoelectric Cooler) to store leftovers or fresh fruit and veg for snacks and breakfast.
8) 5 a day
Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins, minerals, and fibers, and are essential to a healthy diet. The World Health Organisation advises adults to eat a minimum of 400g of fruit and veg per day, which roughly equates to 5 portions.
As well as helping you to maintain a healthy digestive system, eating your 5 a day as part of a balanced diet can lower your risk of bowel cancer, stroke, heart disease, and even some cancers.
If you want to stay fit and strong, try to eat your way through 5 a day as regularly as possible. Snacks, sides of salads and boiled veggies, soups, and smoothies are a great way to do this at home or in the dining hall.
If you want to nourish your brain as well as your body, exercise is a great thing to work into your college routine.
Be it yoga, track sports, cycling, swimming, or even roller-skating – regular movement comes with an endless list of benefits.
You should aim to do some physical activity every day – even if that’s just skipping an uber, or taking the stairs instead of the lift. Better yet, take advantage of the facilities on your campus, and join a fitness class or sports team – boosting your social life as well as your cardiovascular health.
Exercise is proven to improve mental health and emotional wellbeing, increase energy levels, and reduce skeletal muscle tension, which helps you feel more relaxed.
As Beyonce famously proclaimed, ‘a little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody’ – so get moving, and get happy.
10) Allow for treats
Humans aren’t machines, and sometimes what you want is what you need.
Whether you’re hankering for a tub of ice cream on a Friday movie night or grabbing junk food after beers, satisfying cravings is a healthy and normal part of adult life. Sometimes the last thing you want is fruits and veggies, and that’s ok!
Eat for your soul as well as your stomach, and don’t beat yourself up about skipping the low-fat froyo.
How do I eat healthy on a college diet?
To eat healthy on a college diet, stick to the ten crucial tips above, such as getting into a routine, planning your meals, batch cooking, and packing your bag with healthy snacks for food-on-the-go.
Although it might seem tough, eating healthily at college is easy when you use your initiative.
Why is it hard for college students to eat healthily?
Lots of factors make it difficult for college students to eat healthily, like a lack of time, space, and organization. Sleep deprivation – a common feature of student life – also leads students to rely on caffeine and sugar to get them through busy days on campus.
The biggest factor stopping students from eating healthily is a lack of cash. Luckily, simple tips like creating a grocery allowance or doing a weekly dinner club with friends can help. For more ideas on how to eat well on a shoestring, check out these tips on how to eat healthy on a budget.
How can I eat healthy in college without cooking?
To eat healthily in college without cooking, it’s handy to keep a well-stocked ‘pantry’ of non-perishable snacks – think protein bars, nut butter, kale chips, dried fruit, and dark chocolate.
Take advantage of the healthy options your dining hall offers – like sides of boiled veggies, salad bars, or fruit you can stow in your rucksack for later. Use this as an opportunity to try new things – healthy eating doesn’t have to be boring!
Invest in a mini-fridge to keep perishables like fruit and dairy products fresh, and make sure you don’t skip breakfast.
How do I eat healthy at the college dining hall?
Although it can seem tricky, it’s easy to eat healthily at your dining hall when you know how.
Pick whole grains (like oatmeal or rye bread) when available, and make sure there are generous servings of protein and veg on your plate. Let the MyPlate app help you with portion control, and focus on wellness rather than weight loss.
Take advantage of facilities like salad or smoothie bars, and look out for nutrient-rich superfoods such as salmon, kale, and eggs.
Why should you eat healthy in college?
Students need to eat healthily to experience proper growth and development, to prevent disease, and crucially, to achieve academic success.
Moreover, mental health distress in young adults has increased exponentially in the last decade. In 2019, the American College Health Association found that 87% of students felt overwhelmed by all they had to do, 56% felt things were hopeless, and 66% felt overwhelming anxiety.
When research suggests that what we eat may not just affect our physical health, but also our mental wellbeing, it’s more important than ever to make sure you maintain a good diet whilst studying.
General wellness encompasses our brain and body. When working out how to take care of yourself away from home, nutrition is a great place to start!