Each fall sees many parents sending their children off to college. For some children, this may possibly be the first time in their lives they will be responsible for all aspects of their lives. Making sure they get to class on time, keeping their living space clean, and most importantly - eating on their own. No more parents to grocery shop or cook for them. No more bottomless pantry full of snacks. And no one making sure they eat their veggies.
5 Tips for Your Child to Eat Healthy at College
Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and sticking to a proper nutrition plan in college can be challenging, especially if the student doesn't know how to cook or tends to grab items on the go.
There are several ways to master the art of healthy eating and proper nutrition so that it's not only easy to maintain a healthy weight, but also to stay focused and productive on those long days and nights of studying and attending classes.
Even the busiest of students can set themselves up for success with the right tools, knowledge, and resources. But don’t fret, we have some tips and tricks to help prepare your children for all of this.
Consider Campus Meal Plans
If it is available, choose a campus supported meal plan for their first term in school. These plans are usually pretty economical, convenient and provide a broad and healthy array of choices. You should be able to learn about the meal plan options from the campus housing office.
In most colleges, you pay a certain amount ahead of time and then have access to a determined number of meals. This helps you to manage access to regular meals and predict more or less how much food will cost.
When heading to the dining hall, it is important to think of a meal game plan. Here are some things for your student to keep in mind when planning their meals:
- Eat the rainbow at the salad bar: See how many colors you can throw on top of your leafy greens and pair it with a good protein source. Keep this tip in mind if you have an exam after lunch! Foods like leafy greens, avocados and blueberries are great for helping you stay focused and boosting brain function. Head to this article for four salad recipes that will love to eat.
- Avoid the rich sauces: If the hot entrée appears uber-loaded with some buttery sauce, then skip it. Grab the hot veggies instead and add lean protein from the sandwich station to your plate.
- Control your portions: Pour cereal in a small coffee cup instead of those family-sized bowls and couple it with protein. It’s hard to judge how much to pour when cereal is served in huge, self-serve dispensers. Better yet, go for hot cereal like oatmeal, which is a better choice than most of the cold cereals.
- Choose seltzer over soda: Always choose seltzer instead of sodas and juices from the drink dispensers. Hydrating with water is also super important; it makes up 60% of our body, but can also help beat that seasonal slump in the colder winter months. And for those times when water just won’t cut it, reach for a cup of hot tea instead.
- Don’t hang in the dining hall: Use it to eat. Lingering can cause you to eat more than you need just because you are there.
- Don’t forget to look around and assess what is really available: Often there are many options that are baked, broiled, steamed, roasted, or grilled. This will make it easier to avoid foods that are fried, sautéed, breaded, crispy, creamed, batter-dipped, or buttered.
Remind them to Always Eat Breakfast
Even if they get up at noon, students should begin every day with a healthy breakfast that includes a high-fiber carbohydrate (fruit and/or whole wheat toast, for example) and a lean protein and/or healthy fat.
Not only will it help to rev their metabolism, stabilize their blood glucose, control their hunger and boost their energy, but studies have shown that students who eat a healthy breakfast do better in their classes.
Even if they don’t have time to sit down for breakfast, they should keep healthy items in their dorm room for on-the-go breakfasts. And to assure they are keeping up their immunity, a daily drink with plenty of antioxidants is smart.
Pro Tip: Make sure to send them a basket that they can keep in their dorm room with on-the-go breakfast items. One less thing to worry about!
Encourage Your College Student to Keep Healthy Snacks on Hand
Keeping satisfying yet healthy snacks on hand to fuel their brain between classes and stabilize blood glucose is a must! Set your college student up for success by stocking their pantry and making sure there is always a healthful and non-perishable snack in their bag.
Pro Tip: Send healthy care packages instead of ones full of sugary sweets. This way you know that at least for a little while they will be stocked up on healthy snacks.
Guide Them in Creating a Food Budget
If your children are not living in a residence hall or if their school has no access to a meal plan, you should try to work out a food budget that makes sense for them.
Recognize that shopping for and preparing their own food (if they have a kitchen) is usually cheaper than eating out. It is also often healthier too – since you can have more control over what you are eating when you shop and cook and many prepared or restaurant foods are high in sugars, fats, and salt content.
There are lots of foods that are easy and quick to prepare – you can also find tons of quick and simple recipes online.
Pro Tip: Start letting your student see your grocery bills before they move out, so they get an idea what things actually cost. You don't want them to blow their whole food budget in the first month because they didn’t think about cost first.
Ask Them about Eating a Balanced Diet
For both meals and snacks, your college student needs a balance of complex carbs, lean proteins and essential fats. Choosing a whole food, plant-based diet is an excellent way for your child to excel both physically and mentally while away at school.
Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of fuel. Should make up 55-65% of caloric intake. Broken down to glucose for energy and stored as glycogen in muscles and liver. The ability to sustain prolonged vigorous exercise is directly related to initial levels of muscle glycogen.
- Choose - Whole grains such as brown rice, high fiber cereal (aim for at least 5g fiber and protein), sweet potatoes, quinoa, fruit, beans, or vegetables.
- Lose - Candy bars, candy, chips, white bread, biscuits, sugary pastries, pop-tarts, doughnuts, sugary cereals, fruit "drink", soda, and French fries.
Fat is also a necessary and required fuel source, but make sure to avoid the marketing telling you to eat a high-fat diet. We recommend keeping your fat intake to between 10-15% of total calories.
- Choose - Flaxseed, almonds, walnuts, pecans, seeds, almond butter, avocado (guacamole), hummus, tuna, and salmon.
- Lose - Chips, fried foods, high-fat dairy such as butter, cheese and cream. Candy bars, sugary desserts.
Protein is a source of fuel and should comprise between 10-15% of caloric intake. Structural proteins form most of the solid material in the human body such as hair, muscles, tendons and skin. Functional proteins help carry out activities and functions in the body such as transporting oxygen and allowing muscles to contract.
- Choose - All beans such as black, kidney, pinto, soy, chickpeas, and protein-heavy vegetables such as spinach, brussel sprouts, and sugar snap peas.
- Lose - High fat cuts of meat such as ribs, ribeye, chicken wings, bacon, sausage, pepperoni, bologna, fried meat, cheese.
Following these guidelines will help keep your college student on the right track as your loved ones head off to school.