Eating Healthy For Busy Students
Eating healthy in college is HARDDDD. Trust me, I just graduated with my undergrad and those 4 and 1/2 years were filled with both super low lows and growing experiences with food.
I went through three different types of diets and fell on and off the wagon of my health journey multiple times. Between going to class, working, having a social life, being a good wife, and trying to make it to the gym...convinience food sounded so much more appealing than taking a couple hours on Sunday night to meal prep.
But let me just start this off my laying it all out there for you and giving you piece of mind....eating healthy IS possible in the midst of this busy season of your life. If getting to the gym is a hard one for you, I suggest taking a look at my last blog where I give you my top 5 tips to making that work for you!
Now we are going to talk about two different types of situations. The dorm life, and the commuter life and how they are BOTH possible for successful eating habits.
The Dorm Life
I went to a commuter college, but with my experience of working with clients who live in a dorm and have the benefit of a cafeteria meal plan, I know how to help navigate around this.
Most cafeterias on campus have lots of options, but very little HEALTHY options. Yes, college campus's are getting a lot better at offering things like salad bars and build your own sandwich stations, but there is a serious lack of vegetables, protein, and nutrients that isn't filled with all of the extra stuff we just don't need.
Sure that stuff tastes great, but going in and eating that for every meal every day, can quickly get you into trouble. Now, that is not to scare you away from eating at your cafeteria, because having that is so super helpful and you should take advantage of it! But if you have health and fitness goals, lets get realistic and talk strategy.
If your cafeteria lacks in protein options, but your dorm room has a mini fridge and a microwave, here are some things that you can buy weekly to stock up with!
1. Greek yogurt
2. Rotisserie Chicken
3. Low Sodium Canned Chicken (it's not bad I promise and it's cheap)
4. Hard boiled eggs
5. Protein Powder
6. Low Sodium Deli Meat
7. Protein Bars
8. Cottage Cheese
Another practical thing that you could keep in your dorm room for snacks and maybe just even making your own breakfast/lunches/dinners is to get a medium sized tote or storage bin and keep some pantry like items in there such as:
1. Rice Cakes
2. Oatmeal or Oatmeal packets
3. Almond Butter
4. Low Sodium Canned Veggies
5. Pretzel Thins
Some tips to approaching your cafeteria food:
1. Fist, go in with a game plan. If you have a plan, you will be able to walk in and make sure that any temptations you might have are outdone by the idea that you already have something in mind going in. Going in blind leads to wanting convenience and comfort.
2. Look for the options that have protein as the MAIN feature. Something like fish, grilled chicken, ground beef, or some type of meat. This way you can build upon that with other things such as potatoes and veggies!
3. Ask for sauces and things like that on the side if possible. Some places (especially if you have actual restaurants in your cafeteria will allow you to get sauces and dips on the side. This way YOU can control the amount that they add on!
4. Load up on veggies before anything else. This doesn't mean eat 12 plates of veggies, but it does mean make sure you are consciously getting those in if they are available like green peans, green beans, broccoli, and corn!
5. Allow yourself some dessert if you want it, but don't go ham. Choose one thing and be satisfied with that!
6. Try to eat at the cafeteria for 2 meals instead of three. Breakfast to me is a really easy one to cook in your dorm room because things like oatmeal and pancakes are generally easy to whip up!
7. Don't treat the cafeteria like a buffet (guilty). Use your game plan, chose nourishing foods that you know will make you feel satisfied and joyful, and then move on.
8. Avoid soft drinks. I know I know I know....but this one is huge. If you want to get something other than water, take a look at the nutrition label on the back of the bottom, if there is a bunch of sugar and calories, you might want to save those calories for actual food that will fill you up more!
Here is an example of a full day of eating on campus:
Breakfast: 100 calorie oatmeal packet made in the microwave + blueberries + almond butter
Snack: Hummus and carrots
Lunch: Low calorie chicken salad + pretzel things
Snack: Protein Ball
Dinner: Cafeteria meal = something like fish as the main feature + broccoli + potatoes or salad
Desert: 1 chocolate chip cookie or a small bowl of ice cream.
Here are some recipes that you can make in your dorm to have on hand for breakfast and lunches!
Avocado and Greek yogurt Chicken Salad:
2 cups Chicken, cooked
1 Avocado, ripe
1/2 tsp Garlic granulated garlic
1 Lime, small
1/2 tsp Onion powder
1/2 Red onion
1/4 Pepper, ground
1/4 tsp Salt
1/2 cup Greek yogurt, plain
Mix all ingredients in a bowl, then fold in chicken.
1 cup Oatmeal, dry
1/3 cup Honey or agave nectar
1/2 cup Peanut butter or almond butter
1/2 cup Chocolate chips, semisweet
1 tbsp Chia seeds
2/3 cup Coconut flakes, toasted
1/2 cup Flax seeds, ground
1 scoop vanilla protein powder or unflavored protein powder
in one bowl, combine all dry ingredients excluding chocolate chips. In a separate bowl melt the Pb/almond butter and honey. Then combine that mixture with the oats. Set in the fridge for 20 minutes. Then fold in the chocolate chips, roll into balls, and store in the fridge.
Now, since I was a commuter I know how this works a little bit better. The thing that is ABSOLUTELY going to help you the most, is planning ahead and meal prepping. If you commute, you likely also work..so I know how hectic and crazy that schedule can be. Not being prepared will lead to a guilt trip through the drive through and I promise that can be avoided! I used to hate meal prepping on Sunday because I thought that it was a waste of time, but when I made it a consistent habit and I saw how much less stressed I was, it made all the difference for me.
This will also save you a lot of money in the end because vending machines and cafeterias can be expensive really quickly. Be the cool person who brings their lunch to school...I promise you you won't regret it.
Take 1-3hrs on Sunday night to put some chicken in a crock pot with a jar of salsa, or brown some ground turkey. Pop some potatoes in the oven and grab some bags of frozen steerable veggies and there you go! It might sound boring, but the ideas are endless here. Meal prep doesn't have to be boring and in fact, I hope you don't let it be. Pinterest is an amazing place full of recipes that you could try and prep for the week. I listed some of my favorite ones below in my example full day of eating that I made frequently during the school year.
Don't let yourself fail for the day by not being prepared. Just like how you have to work hard at school to make good grades, you also have to work hard at your nutrition to make these changes a lifestyle that is sustainable and maintainable.
You aren't missing out on anything by not eating the food at school, I can promise you that. Challenge yourself here and just try it out for a few weeks.
This is also to not say that you can't EVER eat on the go or at your caff, but be smart about how you approach your days. If everyday turns into convinience, you'll start to get back into that cycle excuses and that's not where you want to be. Trust me, I know.
Here is an example of a full day of eating that I would have in college:
Breakfast: Egg muffins (recipe here) + coffee with almond milk creamer
Snack: Greek Yogurt + strawberries + RX bar
Lunch: Spaghetti Squash Pasta (recipe here)
Snack: Carrots + hummus + protein shake
Dinner: Crock pot salsa chicken (recipe here) + rice, beans, salsa, guac, and light sour cream.
Dessert: 1 serving Halo Top ice cream.
Most of all, just believe in yourself and choose consistency over motivation. Because I can promise you that you will not always be motivated to eat healthy and I will probably never ever crave a carrot stick, but I will always want to treat my body right and steward what God gave me, and that is no exception while I am in college.
If you can make these changes now while you are in college and times are tough and time and valuable, then you can do this when life is a little easier too. I promise. Make your health a priority in this season of life, and the dedication to that will drive you to be dedicated and determined in other areas of your life as well.
I specialize in coaching college students through this time period in their life. I'm passionate about giving you the tools and resources to learn how to eat in a way that is both satisfying, and that doesn't make you sacrifice your social life. If this health and weight loss journey is something you want to take to the next level, click here to learn more about what I can do for you!