Healthy Eating on Campus

For many, college will be the first experience living away from home and as a result, the first time you’ll be deciding yourself when and what you will eat. This may not sound like a big deal but for many college students, eating nutritiously can be quite a challenge. First, you have to make regular time to eat while balancing classes, studying, labs, clubs, and possible athletic, musical, and/or club commitments. Second, you have to make choices on your own that promote good nutrition and health. Third, you have to consider and manage a budget for your meals.

Here are some suggestions for developing healthy eating habits while at college:

  • If it is available, choose a campus supported meal plan for your first term in school. These plans are usually pretty economical, convenient and provide a broad and healthy array of choices. You should be able to learn about the meal plan options from the campus housing office. In most colleges, you pay a certain amount ahead of time and then have access to a determined number of meals. This helps you to manage access to regular meals and predict more or less how much food will cost. Note that you will probably want to have a bit of flexibility to get some meals/snacks outside the meal plan. Cafeteria food for all meals might get a little boring after a while. Some schools allow you to use some of your meal plan funds for restaurants or groceries near campus and many bigger schools may have several cafeteria options. In many cases, the campus plan can work with you if you have special health or dietary needs. Many bigger colleges will even have a nutritionist who can help with special diet/health needs.
  • If you are not living in a residence hall or your school has no access to a meal plan, you should try to work out a food budget that makes sense for you. Recognize that shopping for and preparing your own food (if you have a kitchen) is usually cheaper than eating out. It is also often healthier too – since you can have more control over what you are eating when you shop and cook and many prepared or restaurant foods are high in sugars, fats, and salt content. There are lots of foods that are easy and quick to prepare – you can also find tons of quick and simple recipes online.
  • Remember to try to keep some balance in your diet. While fast food may be ok some of the time when you are in a rush, remember that for the most part, fast food is better at being fast than food. Burgers and pizza are ok in moderation but don’t forget some other food groups like fruits, vegetables, beans, and low fat proteins like fish and poultry.
  • When we are tired, we tend to eat more. Try to get enough rest. Get some sleep when tired instead of eating/snacking. This will help you avoid the common experience of gaining weight in the first year of college.
  • Remember that alcoholic drinks have a lot of calories but no nutritional value. Aside from all the other reasons to be careful with alcohol, it can lead to weight gain and is definitely not a positive nutrition choice! Alcohol causes your body to be dehydrated and when broken down by your liver produces toxic chemicals (this is why people get hangovers).
  • If you have special schedule challenges, find out what others in your situation have done to manage. Very often varsity athletes, for example, may have practices that continue after the cafeteria or campus food services have closed. Your teammates should be able to help you figure out how to handle this.
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