The school year is upon us and young adults nationwide are heading off to college for the first time. Balanced eating on campus can be a challenge. Social events usually involve or revolve around food; dorms have limited cooking resources and small kitchens; and the on-campus food offerings can be lacking in both options and nutritional quality. Don’t despair. Here are some tips for healthy eating on campus:
For most students, eating more “home”-cooked meals rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein will have numerous benefits. What’s great about these types of foods is that cooking doesn’t have to be complicated. If you know how to steam, boil, bake, sauté, or just put something in the microwave, you can have an assortment of quick, easy-to-make meals.
Experiment with different veggies both in raw and cooked forms. Many greens taste good in a quick stir-fry with garlic and onions. Most grains can be made in a rice cooker, and couscous can even be microwaved. There are inexpensive, easy protein sources like beans, tofu, canned tuna or salmon, and eggs. Lean meats like skinless chicken or turkey breast and other types of fish can also be bought frozen and quickly cooked over the stove or in the oven.
Even though you’re only cooking for one, leftovers can be your friend. Don’t be afraid of making extra. In fact, it can be really convenient to have a big batch of salad or hard-boiled eggs on hand. By becoming familiar with basic cooking methods and having staple ingredients on hand, you can become less reliant on the likely not-so-healthy choices at the caf.
It’s not realistic to expect you to cook all your meals, especially with your busy class schedule. Scope out the different lunch cafés and see what types of meals they offer. A lot of schools still have a cafeteria, but, in addition, have popular fast food chains in the student commons area. Know that, for the most part, these places will cook food with much more fat and salt, and they tend to offer mostly refined grains and small portions of vegetables.
Though gluten-free foods are making an appearance in some schools, if you have Celiac disease or a serious gluten intolerance, I would recommend checking to see how the meals are prepared to ensure that there is no cross contamination or accidental usage of gluten-containing ingredients (like sauces, thickeners, etc.).
As you’re perusing the options, think of what you can combine to make a healthy, balanced meal. The MyPlate guidelines recommend that half the plate is vegetables, a quarter starch (preferably whole grains or starchy vegetables like corn, peas, and potatoes), and a quarter lean protein.
Plan your meals. Decide which meals you are going to cook and which you are going to eat out. If you are going to eat at an on-campus lunch spot, you will have scouted out the options and have an idea of what fits your specific needs.
When it comes to parties or other social gatherings, the food can vary from full meals to finger food and drinks. It would be best if you could get an idea of what kind or how much food will be provided. You may need to have a small meal beforehand to make sure that you are not too hungry or just in case there is little food that suits your needs.
Though eating for your health on campus can be challenging, taking these small steps with go a long way in helping you get proper nutrition amongst the busyness of school life.
*This post first appeared on Food Care