We’re not going to lie, eating healthy in college isn’t always easy. Whether it’s your first time cooking on your own, you’re prone to stress-eating, or that canteen pizza gets you every time, there are a host of reasons why you could potentially get off the health track after starting university.
The first couple of weeks at university can feel like sensory overload. New faces, new places and new tasty temptations everywhere. Most of us here at 8fit have been there before, and we know that it can take some time to get settled into a new routine. So, instead of stressing out, take a look at our tips on how to eat healthy in college and equip yourself with the tools to help you have a happy first year and beyond.
How to eat healthy in college dining halls
If you’re living on campus, you probably have access to at least one college dining hall. These cafeteria-style eateries vary from university to university, but often you’ll pay a flat rate to get all-you-can-eat food. If that’s the case at your university, you may be tempted to opt for a burger, fries, and even a dessert or two.
Remember, moderation is key. There’s nothing wrong with indulging every once in a while, but try not to make it a habit. Here are some tips for filling up your plate when eating at your college’s dining hall:
Load up your plate with high-volume, low-calorie foods and eat those first. By that, we mean foods that you can eat a lot of without eating a ton of calories. One example would be a big bowl of steamed veggies. It’s filling and highly nutritious, yet low in calories. Your best bet is to start off at the salad bar, where you can pile on salad greens and your favorite raw veggies topped with a tablespoon of nuts and seeds. Be careful with the pre-made salad dressings – they usually pack in a lot of calories, unhealthy fats, and sugar. Instead, drizzle some apple cider vinegar and a dash of olive oil over your salad to make it your own. Feel free to level it up by adding tofu or grilled chicken if it’s available.
Fill your plate with veggies, veggies, and more veggies. If your college has buffet-style dining, try to go for steamed or stir-fried vegetables with a side of brown rice or quinoa if they have it. Steer clear of the french fries and go for a baked potato (sweet or regular) instead.
Taste the rainbow. When picking out veggies to add to your meal, try to choose colorful foods. That’s because bright, colorful vegetables and fruits are full of antioxidants and nutrients. To give an example, in orange veggies like carrots you’ll get copious amounts of beta-carotene, whereas, in blue, dark red and purple fruits, you’ll get anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins, antioxidants that are both good for the heart.
Don’t forget protein! Go for lean meats like turkey or grilled chicken breast if at all possible and try to avoid fried food. If you don’t eat meat, no worries – opt for beans, chickpeas, lentils, tofu or tempeh. Your college dining hall probably even has a vegetarian section (see our point below!) where you’ll find some veg-friendly protein sources.
Check the vegetarian options. More and more students are choosing to follow a plant-based lifestyle, so many college dining halls offer at least one or two entirely vegan or vegetarian options. Chances are, you may even find a new favorite food, like black bean burgers or baked falafel with hummus. Broadening your horizons is never a bad thing.
Grab a piece of fruit like an apple, orange or banana on your way out of the dining hall to enjoy next time you get a craving for something sweet. Bananas are the perfect snack for keeping you satiated between classes, but be mindful if you happen to be prediabetic or diabetic.
Off campus? Here’s how to eat healthy on a college budget
So far, we’ve only covered how to eat healthy when at your university’s dining hall. Now we’ll move on to some tips about how to eat healthy on a college budget while living off-campus or in an apartment-style dorm.
As you’re not living in a traditional dorm, you probably have more wiggle room when it comes to preparing your food. And, since you don’t have to depend on your college’s dining hall as often, you won’t have to face so many unhealthy lures. These tips can help you to stay on track without breaking your piggy bank.
Load up on staples like beans, brown rice, oats and quinoa.
Keep your freezer stocked with frozen vegetables — they’re harvested at peak freshness, and they keep in the freezer for months. They’re perfect for when you want to make a quick, easy meal with minimal effort.
Head to the local farmer’s market to buy fresh and affordable veggies. Not only will you have some high-quality produce to look forward to, but you’ll also feel good knowing that you are supporting regional farmers. As an alternative, see if there’s a CSA (community-supported agriculture) subscription in your area for fresh produce delivered to you weekly from farms near you. Here’s how to find them in the U.S.
Check out the sales at your local supermarket. If something you really like is on sale at bargain prices, go ahead and stock up. If you’re worried about the food expiring, you can always freeze it for later — tofu, for example, freezes particularly well and ripe bananas are excellent for making smoothies (just remember to peel them).
Make a big batch of food and portion it out for the week. If you’re already going through the trouble of making brown rice, why not go ahead and double or triple the quantity? It takes the same amount of effort, but you’ll have a lot more food on hand to eat throughout the week.
Healthy college snacks: Favorites from the 8fit app
Banana peanut butter snack
This dorm room snack couldn’t get any simpler, and you don’t need any special equipment for it (not even a fridge). Just slice a banana in half lengthwise. Top with your choice of almond butter or peanut butter, then sprinkle on some sesame or poppy seeds for extra texture. Easy!
Avocado and tomato on toast
Here’s another one that’s perfect for dorm-living (or anywhere, really). Add sliced avocado and tomato to a piece of whole-grain toast. Season with salt and pepper. It’s filling, fast and the perfect pick-me-up to eat between classes.
Yogurt, banana and almonds
With just three ingredients, this recipe makes a quick and easy snack or a fast breakfast when you don’t have a moment to spare. All it takes is one banana, some yogurt and a small handful of almonds – feel free to slice the banana and mix everything together, or eat each food separately.
Invest in your health
Just because you’re starting university doesn’t mean all your healthy habits should go out the window. For guidance through this transitional period and along your journey and even more tips about how to eat healthy in college, we suggest giving 8fit Pro a go. Not only will you have different snack recipes to choose from like the ones above, but you’ll also have access to an extensive library of recipes for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
8fit is more than just a source for recipes, though. It’s almost like a personal trainer who is there to support your every step of the way.