Six Steps to Eating Healthier at College

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I leave for college in a couple weeks, and I’m so excited! What I am most nervous about isn’t the people or the classes; it’s the food. I’m used to the delicious, healthy meals I eat at home, and of course, I’ve heard horror stories about the dreaded freshman 15.

I’ve decided to take a proactive approach and begin planning. Here’s a six-step plan I’ve created:

1. Do research before arriving.

Scope out the dining hall’s options, especially if you have specific allergies or dietary concerns. Find out which foods are served daily that you can incorporate into your diet, and find out what foods you’ll want to store in your dorm fridge. I found out that my school’s dining hall has a great lunch-to-go program.  The dining hall provides fruit, veggies, baked chips and a sandwich for students to take on the run.

See if your school has delicious vegan or vegetarian options, such as this colorful and flavorful pizza. Photo By Amarand Agasi/Courtesy Flickr.

2. Talk to an expert.

Before heading to college, talk to a dietician or knowledgeable friend or family member about your plans healthy eating at college. My mom used to be a nutritionist, so she’s been helping me plan. Small colleges often have a dietician who works in the dining hall once a week–my school does. Though they can’t cater to all your needs, they can be a helpful resource for general questions.

3. Make a plan.

Once you see the food options in person, start to develop an eating plan. Try to write down three healthy ideas for breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks. You may have to get creative. For example, for lunch I will eat from the salad bar most days, but I will supplement it with grilled chicken from another station. For dinner I will take the burger out of the bun and have it with a side of steamed veggies.

After figuring out what you want to eat, try to figure out when you’ll eat. Once you get your class schedule, write in times where you want to eat meals so you are not rushed into bad choices. I will also be penciling in time to go to the gym.

It’s easier to stick to a healthy diet if you plan your meals in advance. Photo By helenjane/Courtesy Flickr.

4. Grab healthy food to go.

I’m bringing along reusable containers to store fruit, veggies, nuts and seeds to eat between classes. I especially like fresh blueberries and carrots as snacks. If I forget my container, at least I can grab an apple or two.

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and go well alone or atop breakfast foods, such as pancakes or cereal. Photo By Mr. T in DC/Courtesy Flickr.

5. Don’t give into pressure.

College parties are full of junk food. Instead of reaching for a pizza roll as a late-night snack, stash a healthy snack in your bag or pocket. Stash granola bars, graham crackers or a handful of nuts in a reusable snack bag. My favorite late-night fix is a handful of Annie’s Homegrown Bunny Grahams.

At a dark party, no one has to know I’m eating these bunny-shaped snacks! I love the variety pack of chocolate, chocolate chip and honey. Photo Courtesy Annie’s Homegrown.

I’ll also stay away from alcohol in college. For me, it’s less for moral reasons and more for health reasons. According to a survey conducted by the CORE Institute, the Center for Orthopedic Research and Education, college freshman consume 5.7 drinks per week. Alcohol packs in lots of calories and very little nutritional value.

6. Campaign for local and organic food.

Grinnell College is committed to serving local food in the cafeteria; the school uses organic flour and local dairy, herbs and pork. However, only some of the fruits and vegetables are organic. If I get a other students on board, maybe I can convince the school to go all-organic.  I’d also like to see the school include nutritional information for every item.

Interested in starting your own campaign? Join the Student Campaign for Improvement of College Cafeteria Food Nationwide on Facebook.

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