How to Eat Healthy at College

College days even in a normal time without lockdown can be a challenge for healthy eating! For many young adults this is the first time planning meals or choosing what to eat without restrictions. And those unhealthy snacks are everywhere, super simple to grab and easy overindulge in. But healthy nutrition is so important for building brain power, keeping energy levels up, and even supporting a healthy immune system.

Try these top tips for eating healthy while on campus or in the dorm room.

Be Prepared. Stock up on healthy snacks, fill a shelf and your mini-fridge with nutritious choices, stow a few good snacks in your backpack, and make a plan for navigating the cafeteria. If you’re in an apartment and have to cook for yourself, plan a menu and try to prep as much as you can ahead of time. This really is the time to go back to the basics of the food pyramid and build in lots of fruits, veggies, healthy fats, and whole grains. Of course, you’re going to indulge on a greasy pizza or sugary soda but if the bulk of your diet is nutritious, you can get by with an occasional splurge.

Cafeteria Eating Is Overwhelming! Today’s college cafeteria has everything you could ever wish for and it’s easy to overdo it. But they also have every great choices available, all the time. So, if you plan for it (and stick to your plan), you can put together a really nutritious diet. Scan the menu before you go in or even plan your entire week out. Always gravitate to the salad bar and veggie section, choose grilled instead of fried, and add sweets sparingly. If they have to-go options, fill up on the cut-up veggies and fruits and stash in your dorm fridge. Yes, they may have a frozen soft-serve machine but you don’t have to eat it at every meal. (In case you’re wondering, the Freshman 15 is real!).

Don’t Skip Meals or Eat at Weird Times. Here’s another Momism: breakfast is the most important meal of the day! And it’s really true (even if it is almost lunchtime!). Your brain and body need fuel to get going when you wake up. If you aren’t up to navigating the cafeteria with bedhead, grab a high protein snack bar, some milk, juice or yogurt, and a small piece of fruit until you can have a more filling meal. And yes, it’s good for you to snack during the day!

Don’t Overdo Caffeine. A couple cups of coffee in the morning are fine but sipping on high-caffeine and energy drinks all day will really mess with your sleep schedule, your concentration powers, and even your ability to relax when you’re done studying. If you still need a hot mug for cold study sessions, try switching to herbal or decaf tea in the afternoon and evening.

Ask for Help. This one is for parents and grandparents: send lots of healthy snacks whenever you can! Many campuses don’t have ready access to grocery stores so your student can’t stock up their own cupboards (and they’re broke college students anyway!). Send them a box of snacks (order online here from The Good Grocer) and let them raid your cupboards before they go back after a visit.

Top picks for stocking a college dorm room pantry:

  • High protein (low sugar) snack bars
  • Dried fruits (low sugar) and nuts
  • Granola or trail mix with lots of nuts, seeds, and no sugar ingredients
  • Popcorn (air popped is best) with shake-on flavor toppings
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Squeezable fruit packets (Mama Chia gives you extra protein)
  • Instant oatmeal or dry cereal
  • Peanut butter or nut butters
  • Canned tuna, salmon, or chicken
  • Beef, turkey, or tofu jerky
  • Quick items you can microwave (cup of soup, ramen, mac & cheese) but beware of high salt.
  • If you have a fridge, we also love: Greek yogurt, milk, 100% juice, cheese sticks or cheese slices, or fresh fruit and veggies (precut).

Learn Why Eating Healthy Matters. Your Mom may have tried to tell you this already but high-sugar, high-calorie snacks do not help you function at your top level. Your brain power, your energy throughout the day, and your sleep depend on consistent blood sugar levels. Sure, you get a jolt of energy after eating a candy bar or guzzling and iced coffee but it does not give you a steady fuel level to keep you going. Avoiding sugar, adding protein, and eating on a regular schedule keeps your blood sugar steady. If you’re in doubt, look it up. Teach yourself how to make a few go-to healthy dishes and experiment with trying new foods.

Avoid Mindless Eating. Make an effort to be aware of the food you’re eating. Opening up a big bag of chips while you plow through a textbook means you’ll eat way more than one serving. Try portioning out in a separate dish how much you need and don’t scroll, read, or watch TV while you’re eating. Listen to your body – if you’re hungry, eat something, but pay attention to when you’re really full. Don’t just grab the nearest sweet or unhealthy choice by habit.

Enjoy It! This is your time to venture out on your own! Try every new cuisine you can find, join a cooking or foodie club, experiment with foods you’ve never tried before. And when you’re home for a visit, savor that delicious home cooking.

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