Sister’s Request: Eating Healthy in College

by Holly on May 28, 2010

in reader's request

It’s official: my lil’ baby is going off to college approximately 863 miles away in Colorado this fall.

As much as it pains me to admit, she’s not a baby anymore. She may be the baby of the family, but she’s a wonderfully kind 18-year-old woman ready to take on the world.

So¬†when this innocent, endearing face asks you for something…

You happily oblige.

Sister Everythingtarian #3, also known as Kendra, will soon be joining the collegiate ranks in a short three months time. Among the million things to worry about before heading off to college – Am I going to get a crazy roommate? What should my major be? Do they really expect me to study 40 hours a week? How am i going to pay for all the beer I’m going to consume this year without asking money from my parents? – the one thing most college-bound kids worry about remains: am I going to gain the freshman 15?

Or worse, the freshman 30?

Have no fear, The Healthy Everythingtarian is here!

Kendra asked me about this very topic earlier this week, and the sisterly response is to dedicate a post to this very topic. However, you don’t have to be in college to learn anything from this post. No siree. “Eating healthy in college,” can easily translate to “Eating healthy while on a budget,” or “Eating healthy on the go,” or “Eating healthy when you are faced with 1,000,000 unhealthy things.”

It’s all relative people.

For starters, I am going to write this post with three assumptions:

  • College students have access to a microwave and refrigerator.
  • College students will be consuming alcoholic beverages on a regular basis.
  • College students want to lead a healthy, balanced lifestyle (to even out the aforementioned drinking).

First things first: breakfast.

If you are going to stand a chance of staying awake for that 7am Psychology lecture (the worst mistake I made in my own college career), you need a healthy, filling breakfast.

Oatmeal is a great option, because all it basically requires is oats, water and toppings of your choice. Best of all? It can be made right in your dorm room or apartment with the help of a microwave.

My basic oatmeal recipe usually contains:

  • 1/2 cup oats
  • 1/2 cup water + 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/2 banana
  • pinch of salt
  • cinnamon

Nuke it for 2-4 minutes, stopping every minute to stir until you get the thickness you desire.

Then it’s the fun part: the toppings. Granola, coconut, berries, jelly, peanut butter, almond butter, more banana, chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, ground flax – it’s up to you.

Another great breakfast option – the yog mess.

One of my favorites, the yog mess is the perfect breakfast for the ever-busy college student. All you have to do is take a container of yogurt out of the fridge, add some fruit (sliced bananas, berries, apples…), sprinkle a handful of granola or cereal on top, scoop a spoonful of nut butter from the jar and DEVOUR.

How’s that for a 5-Minute Meal? Rachael Ray ain’t got nothing on me.

Other breakfast ideas: PB+J toast (smushed together in a sandwich), PB+B toast (also smushed together), overnight oats or an egg breakfast sandwich.

I wish I had eaten like this in college. Instead, I preferred downing about nine bowls of Special K with Red Berries cereal, which never even made a dent in my massive, beast-like hunger.

Snacks are imperative for keeping one’s academic brain in tip-top shape.

Bars are a great grab n’ go choice…

My favorites being Larabars, Clif Bars and Boomi Bars.

Actually, my favorite bar would probably be the espresso bar at a local coffee joint where I can down liquid caffeine at my own leisure, but that’s not here nor there.

Anyways…cereal, fresh veggies and frozen edamame are all easy-to-store and make for healthy snacks.

Get yourself a box of good, whole grain cereal, stock your mini-fridge with fresh crudites (carrots, celery, peppers, cucumbers, cauliflower) and keep a bag of edamame/nuts/trail mix on hand so your blood sugar never dips too low you lash out in the middle of lecture at that dumb girl in the back row who just asked if Nigeria was an official country yet.

Yes, that happened to me in college. And yes, I lashed out…under my breath.

I’m a pansy.

Next up: lunch.

From my own time eating at the G-Spot (ahem, Gordon Commons) and hearing from others about their school cafeterias, word on the street is colleges are getting better with dining hall food options.

At my school, they had a sandwich bar where you could create your own wrap…

And they posted all calorie counts for food.

Even though you may be able to go back for seconds and thirds without paying extra, you ARE going to pay extra – with added poundage. Don’t be afraid to check out the calorie counts, make some mental calculations and choose wisely. That means stocking up on fruits + veggies while getting some whole grains, lean protein and healthy fat in the mix.

For dessert?

Perhaps some applesauce + strawberries? Or, keep a bar of chocolate in your fridge and nibble on a couple of squares after a meal. Sometimes, it isn’t “dessert” we want but rather just a lil’ something sweet. There is NO shame in that my collegiate comrades.

Plus, lunch will re-energize you for a lovely round of afternoon classes.

Trust me, if you take economics, you are going to need everything you can to keep yourself awake. I speak from experience.

Last solid meal of the day: dinner.

Almost every college campus I’ve heard of has a salad bar. The key is to load up wisely.

5 Simple Tips for Navigating the Salad Bar

  1. Choose high-quality greens as your base and load up with veggies. I recommend a big bed of spinach to start with, then adding as many fresh veggies as your stomach can handle without stinking out the place with your fiber bomb.
  2. Add a serving (or two!) of protein. Chicken, turkey, cottage cheese, beans (black, garbanzo, kidney, cannellini), cheese, almonds, sunflower seeds or tofu all make good choices.
  3. Pick your dressing wisely. Opt for vinaigrette-based dressings as opposed to creamy dressings.
  4. Avoid salad bar fat traps. This means limit the croutons, bacon, too much cheese, creamy pasta salads, too much dressing, anything fried, etc. You certainly don’t need to exclude these things altogether – just make sure you are eating them in moderate amounts.
  5. Pair it with a carb. If only that were the answer to every problem in life, no? I find salads much more satisfying if I have a good whole grain roll or a sandwich on the side. It makes for a more well-balanced meal and leaves you sa-tizz-fied.

If you want to drink, drink. It IS college after all, and you can only get away with doing dumb stuff while intoxicated for so long.

However, I am 98% convinced that the reason people gain the freshman 15 is booze. Specifically, too much of it. If you do go out drinking, try and do so responsibly (which I realize is slightly hypocritical coming from somebody who once drunkenly fell into a bush and had to be peeled out by her roommate’s boyfriend).

Don’t walk around alone.

Don’t stay at a bar with people you don’t know.

Keep your cell phone with you at all times.

Just be smart.

Maybe use some common sense?

Pretty please?

And when you wake up hungover the next morning wanting a plate of this…

Eat it.

And remember that life is about balance. I am not saying you should rush to the gym, become a fruitarian or detox Beyonce-style with a cup of hot water, lemon, cayenne pepper + maple syrup after an indulgent night out. Just remember BALANCE is the key word here.

Then go study.

Because my alma mater’s motto is, “Work hard, play hard.”

Plus, you are in college to learn, remember? And the four years will go by so fast, that if you don’t actually do your school work, you won’t graduate and all you will have left is the bitter taste of failure and vomit in your mouth and nothing to show for it.

Ya know, like a diploma?

In other words, grab a Diet Coke + some pretzels…

And hit the library.

Then go to bed, wake up and repeat the cycle over again.

Obviously, my advice here is nothing earth-shattering or anything you probably haven’t heard before. Life is busy. Life is crazy. Life is over way too fast.

Enjoy it.

What are your tips for eating healthy in college? Or just eating healthy in general? Sharing is caring!


Susan May 30, 2010 at 7:47 am

I 100% agree that 98% of college weight gain is booze too. It’s part of the experience though, so I feel kinda mean saying lay off the booze to prevent weight gain – instead drink smart ;) Dark beers and sugary girly drinks are loaded with calories. Cocktails with club or diet soda are a much better choice :)

jassy May 30, 2010 at 11:44 am

thanks for the tips…i’m not anymore in college but i’m still living the dorm life. your tips are very helpful for someone like me who wants to live healthy but has limited resources…=)

hope your sister enjoy college=)

Tay May 30, 2010 at 12:33 pm

Great tips Holly!! I’m a big fan of making a recipe over the weekend for leftovers. Or making larger meals during the week so I have leftovers for a few days. Saves mulahhh. Bring a packed lunch to campus! I’m a huge fan of carrots and celery to munch on while studying or during class breaks when I’m not exactly hungry, but just munchy. I also live off of gum and lollipops while studying. I always needed something in my mouth (TWSS?). Shop the sales and scan the sale ads for the grocery stores! And yes alcohol is a problem. Try and limit drinking to once per week. Even that can pack on pounds. But try and remember that it’s okay to let loose and have fun sometimes with alcohol! Don’t be too stressed about the calories. But that you can also have a fun time sober. And once drunk, the other people you’re around probably won’t notice the difference if you’re sober or drunk.

Those are my tips!

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