Eating Healthy at College

With the end summer comes going back to school, and for many older students, this means going back to college.  For many young people, college is the first time in their lives that they are fully in charge of what to eat. Without a parent around to dictate food choices and portion sizes, many young people find it hard to make healthy choices about food. Of course, campus dining options do not help the situation; the meals served in most college dining rooms and cafeterias are comparable to fast food options in America. Eating healthy, however, is not impossible.

Breakfast for a lot of college students usually consists of a bowl of sugary cereal or a breakfast bar. Most students do not use the meal credits in their dining plans to get breakfast, choosing instead to save them for larger meals or for when they have more time to eat. Students that do get a meal from a dining hall usually load their plate with a lot of bacon, sausage, cheese, and eggs. To make breakfast a healthier meal, focus on whole grains and lean proteins. If you usually like to grab a quick meal in your dorm room, stock up on whole-grain cereal (with little sugar), skim milk, and fresh fruit. Instead of a pre-packaged breakfast bar, consider eating a piece of fruit and a small handful of nuts. If you like meat in the morning, avoid pork sausage and ham and replace it with a small omelette or small portion of scrambled eggs.

Lunch menus in a lot of on-campus eateries consist of fast-food style options such as cheeseburgers, chicken strips, and French fries. While these foods are cheap and easy to prepare and serve (and can be convenient for students who want to grab a quick meal before class), they are full of empty calories and contain a lot of fat. Look for dining halls that serve salads (or have a salad bar) or grilled entrees. Replacing the fried chicken patty on a chicken sandwich with a grilled one can save up to 200 calories and 35 grams of fat. If possible, replace French fries with a side salad or a piece of fruit.

Dinners are usually served in a limited number of eateries, and at a lot of colleges they usually consist of crowd-pleasing fare such as tacos, nachos, spaghetti, and the fast food options described above. Unfortunately, this food is once-again high in calories and fat. While the occasional indulgence is acceptable, try to avoid items like cheese sauce, processed pasta, and red meat. Instead, opt for any kind of steamed or grilled vegetables (you can usually find at least one choice), a grilled white meat (like chicken or fish), and whole grain bread or pasta. If items like these are hard to find, get smaller portions of items like hamburger meat, fried chicken, and vegetables drowned in butter or cheese sauce.

The final thing to keep in mind is what you are drinking. Soda can make up over 25% of the calories consumed in a lot of American diets. Whenever possible, drink water, diet soda, or (believe it or not) coffee. Although coffee should only be consumed in moderation due to the caffeine (no more than two cups a day), it is a beverage with almost no calories (if you don’t add cream or sugar).