College students on their own for the first time often are tempted to abandon thoughts of regular, healthy meals in favor of unlimited snacks, junk food, late night pizza deliveries and excessive liquid calories. The term “freshman fifteen” is common for a reason: 70 percent of college freshman gain weight. And, most of that weight is gained during the first semester.
Not only do college students eat too many calories, they also eat too few serving of fruits or vegetables —less than one daily, on average.
Many students opt for a limited cafeteria meal plan, which means they are on their own for some meals. Following are some suggestions for eating healthfully, whether in the college cafeteria or the dorm room.
In the cafeteria, remember that portion size matters. Skip the tray so you won’t be tempted to load it up. Choose foods that are baked, broiled or grilled, instead of fried or sauced. Stir-frys are often offered and are usually a good source of vegetables and lean meats. Load up on the salad bar, but go easy on high-fat cheeses, bacon bits and fatty dressings. If fresh fruit is offered, grab a piece or two for your backpack for a snack later in the day. Although tempting, avoid dessert at every meal. Maybe you could just get dessert on Wednesdays. Unlimited soda in the cafeteria is a common source of lot of extra calories. Choose water or unsweetened tea most often, and then low-fat milk or juice, instead of soda.
Check your school’s policy to determine if appliances are allowed in the dorm room. Take a microwave, mini fridge, hot pot or coffee maker, if possible. Many dorms have a common kitchen area that can be used, as well. Be sure to pack some basic utensils, plates, bowls and microwave-safe cooking dishes. Storage containers or plastic bags also come in handy for leftovers.
There are several cookbooks available for college students that focus on simple meals that can be made in a microwave or hot pot. When my boys went to college, I bought them the book “A Man, A Can and A Plan.” It had a lot of creative ideas for simple meals.
Stock your room with the basics and you’ll be less tempted to order in or run down the street to the convenience store. Dry goods can be stored in a plastic tub in the closet or under the bed. Things to keep on hand might include: cereal, oatmeal, nuts, peanut or nut butter, snack bars, whole grain crackers and chips, tuna pouches, fruit cups, microwave popcorn, dried fruits, tortillas, low-sodium soups, beef jerky and refried beans. Refrigerator staples might be yogurt, deli meat, eggs, string cheese, salsa, hummus, baby carrots, cottage cheese and frozen vegetables. Don’t forget to keep some fresh fruit on hand, like apples, oranges and bananas.
Page 2 of 2 - Following are some ideas for dorm room meals.
Scrambled eggs make a quick and easy microwave meal. Top with some cheese and salsa for a tasty supper.
Ramen noodles and pasta are often a staple with college kids, but they are not the healthiest options. Add some frozen veggies or some veggies from the cafeteria salad bar to make these dishes more nutritious.
Microwave bake a potato and top with cottage cheese and broccoli.
Spread pizza sauce on an English muffin, top with cheese and microwave for mini pizzas.
Make a bean burrito with a tortilla, refried beans and salsa.
Layer yogurt, cereal and fruit for a yogurt parfait.
Add some dried fruit to oatmeal for a filling meal.
Make a tuna melt by putting some tuna on a crackers or a slice of bread, sprinkle with cheese and microwave it.
Canned soup makes a quick meal. Add some frozen vegetables to increase the nutrition.
Pudding: cook it in the microwave or get the instant kind for a quick snack.
Cake in a cup: Combine one box of angel food cake mix and one box of any other flavor cake mix. Empty both into a Ziploc bag and mix well. Put 1/3 cup in a large microwave safe mug, add 3 tablespoons water and stir. Microwave 30-60 seconds.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.