How to Eat Healthy on Campus
It’s no secret that the college lifestyle tempts you with unhealthy eating habits. It’s a fact ingrained into the very identity of the college experience. Anyone asked to name typical meal consumed by college students would invariably offer up a list of sodium-enriched items: pizza, burgers, microwaved pockets of cheese and meat, and the infamous staple of dried ramen noodles. The stereotype has merit, as studies have recently proven that most college students fail to meet the minimum standards for nutritional meals at all.
The good news is that you can defy this stereotype by implementing healthier eating habits in your diet. It’s not all that outlandish to maintain a healthy diet while you’re in college, but it does require effort and a willingness to resist temptation in all its deep-fried forms. To keep you on the right track, I’d like to offer helpful tips for smart eating on campus, as I find that that’s the time when the temptation to cut corners is the highest.
Make your own hearty breakfast
At the very start of your morning—or early afternoon if you have late classes—be sure to eat a sizeable and nutritious breakfast before you go off to campus. I heartily suggest making your own breakfast, as this ensures that you’re in control of everything that goes into it. Many restaurants offer “healthy” breakfast options that are actually loaded down with sugars and carbs, which can put a serious nutritional dent in the most important meal of the day.
Don’t be intimidated by a DIY breakfast; it’s the easiest meal to prepare for, with tons of healthy options to choose from. Typical American breakfast fare like bacon and eggs might sound tasty every morning, but it’s not exactly the healthiest choice, nor is it the most logistical if you lack a proper kitchen. A cup of Greek yogurt, for example, will give you just as much protein and none of the cholesterol of bacon and eggs. Plus, it comes prepared for immediate consumption.
Load up with healthy and portable snacks for the day
The more proactive you are about your daily meals, the more you’ll keep a handle on your eating habits. Load up on easily accessible and healthy snacks that you can eat throughout the day to combat the perpetual hunger than accompanies life on college campus. Mixed nuts, trail mix, veggie chips (chips make out of dehydrated veggies like kale), and whole wheat crackers are just a few tasty options if you crave salty foods throughout your day. If you have a sweet tooth, apples, oranges, bananas, and dried fruit serve as great snack alternatives to candy bars and other high-sugar treats. They might not offer the immediate satisfaction of an order of French fries or a packet of sour candies, but they’ll be kind to your body in the long run.
Avoid the food courts at lunchtime
Sometimes it feels like college food courts were designed to make student health suffer. That’s obviously not the case, but it’s hard not to pause at the procession of fast-food choices available at most dining areas in colleges around the country. It should go without saying that you won’t be in the best shape if you regularly eat at establishments dominated by dollar menus and “reasonably” sized burgers, but that’s advice that’s easier to listen to than it is to take. There’s nothing wrong with the occasional visit to your favorite fast-food joint, though those infrequent indulgences can quickly become habitual. A pack of fried chicken nuggets and fries is all it takes to ruin your otherwise responsible day of eating well, so watch out.
You’d be doing yourself a favor by avoiding these food courts altogether, but that’s not to say that some places really do have healthy meal options. If you want to stick to healthy fare, choose a salad with a grilled meat (if any) served with vinaigrette rather than a creamy dressing. Deli sandwiches are not as healthy as you’d believe; the majority of them contain almost a day’s worth of sodium from the preservatives in the meat and bread. So if you’re set on a sandwich in the food court, you’d be best off choosing a veggie option.
Get creative with your meal choices
Colleges are often located at the center of a city or a town, which means that there should be plenty of eating establishments to choose from right outside of campus. Many restaurants around your college campus should have reasonably priced lunch specials, and since healthy eating is all the rage these days, there should be no shortage of options to choose from. Make sure to consult helpful food review apps or local food blogs before you go to a place that boasts a nutritious mention, as the food industry can be pretty creative with their interpretation of healthy cuisine.
Obviously, you don’t need to eat out for every meal while you’re on campus, even if the fare fits with your eating habits. Whether you’re low on funds or just not in the mood to look around for a place to eat, sometimes you just want something quick and easy. If all else fails, pack an easy and healthy food ahead of time so you can forgo the hassle of figuring out what to eat for your midday meal. If you’re unsure about what to cook for yourself, I recommend checking out student-run food blogs. Countless students have taken it upon themselves to blog about their firsthand experience cooking healthy and easy meals while in college, with recipes ranging from the outlandish and complex to the simpler-than-cooking-a-cup-of-ramen variety. Explore around and see whose taste matches with yours!