Campus life is crazy. From a full lecture schedule to extracurricular activities to memory making, eating healthy might just be one of the last things on your to-do list. I remember the days when 8am classes paired well with an XL double double and breakfast sandwich and 1am study sessions were crammed with leftover pizza. Yeah, my eating habits were not great in university. Maybe it was because I was pressed for time. (I mean, those 2,500 word research papers don't write themselves. Imagine if they did though!) Maybe it was because I lived on campus. Maybe it was because I was on a budget. Maybe it was because I didn't know what healthy eating really meant.
Well, in my final year on university, I took control of my eating habits. I moved off campus, created meal plans and made the commitment to start eating healthy. I created Miss Epicure, my former food blog, as a way to keep track of my diet. By doing that, cooking for myself rather than ordering takeout and educating myself on food, I lost nearly 25 pounds! Also, I felt lighter and more energetic. I had more focus both inside and outside class. And I had more time to study.
So I want to focus on back to school healthy eating. I've included my top tips to eat clean and healthy while juggling a full class schedule, homework demands and social calendar. I've got a few recipes for you guys and a fancy meal plan template you can download and use every week!
So here is your guide to eating healthy in college.
Healthy Eating Tips
Hack the dining hall
Oh, the dining hall. The source of the Freshman 15. However, there are many options to choose that can keep you on track. Instead of indulging in pizza and pasta galore, source out the salad bar. Add some greens to your plate, top with some chicken and grab some fruit for the side. Boom! Dining hall hacked.
Have a plan
I'm a huge advocate for meal planning. Every Thursday, I sit down and plan out my meals for the next week. I spend a few hours over the weekend shopping and prepping my meals. This frees up a ton of time during the week to study, work and play.
A little nutrition education goes a long way. From knowing what it is in your food to understanding how your body actually it breaks down, empowering yourself with a little bit of nutritional knowledge will help you make wiser decisions regarding the food you eat. Find out if your college or university has a nutrition course you can take as an elective.
Shop the perimeter
If you don't live in a dorm and you can cook for yourself, do it! Understanding how a grocery store is designed and how you can use this to your advantage will go a long way to help you plan, shop for, prep and eat healthy meals.
Grocery stores are organized so that all the fresh foods are located on the perimeter of the store. If you keep to the perimeter, you are more likely to walk out the store with fresh, healthy foods rather than the chips, candy and cookies.
Set a budget
One of the biggest roadblocks to eating healthy as a student is how much it costs to purchase fresh ingredients, including meat and produce. When I budget for food, I think about nutrition ROI. Which foods are going to provide the nutrition I need for a relatively low cost? Would you rather spend $3 on a bag of chips that will send your blood sugar high and then crash or on a couple bags of carrots that will provide you with steady nutrition? I choose carrots every time. And even though produce isn't as cheap as Kraft Dinner, you will be doing your body and mind a favor by giving it the nutrition it needs to focus in class, study well and maintain that crazy college lifestyle.
If you want to cut down on your food budget, my top food swap is this: buy plant-based proteins such as chickpeas or black beans. For 1/10 of the cost, you get the same amount of protein. And plant-based proteins are super versatile.
Find a support system
There's nothing tougher when trying to eat healthier than surrounding yourself with people who would rather eat dirt than a piece of broccoli. I've been there. I lived with people during college who would make the most scrumptious smelling dishes that I couldn't have because I was trying to lose weight and get healthy. It was only once I found a friend who was just as committed to her health as I was mine. And we challenged each other, celebrated wins together, swapped recipes and achieved results - together.
So find your support system. It could even be the people you live with. Make the commitment to eating healthy together. Plan meals together. take turns shopping. And when you can, eat together. One of my favorite memories from my college dorm days is when one of the girls, an abroad student from England, made us a traditional English Sunday dinner. The sweet part is not necessarily the food (but it was incredible!), but eating together.
My final tip is an important one. It's important to find balance when trying to eat healthy. It's totally okay to have a piece of cake or that breakfast sandwich. The key is keeping these foods in moderation. If you want a post-exam cupcake, eat the darn cupcake. But eat one, not four. And really savor it. My rule of thumb is 80% healthy and 20% not-so-healthy.
When I'm looking for recipes to include on my meal plan, I have two rules: the dish can't take more than 30 minutes to cook and it must be simple. I look for recipes that have fewer ingredients, but more of the fresh stuff. Here are a few recipes that you can tuck in your back pocket to kick start your meal planning and prepping genius. All recipes are easy to prepare, inexpensive and, obviously, healthy.
- The Best Healthy Turkey Chili
- Fall-Inspired Roasted Vegetables
- Strawberry Avocado Goat Cheese Panini
- Turkey and Hummus Club Sandwich
- Health Burrito Bowl
- Warm Veggie Quinoa Salad
- Coconut Avocado Grasshopper Bars
- Healthy Banana Bread
- Healthy Peanut Butter Oatmeal Cookies (use full fat PB, instead of reduced fat)
Meal Plan Template
Get started with your meal plan with this handy template!
And if you've made it this far, let me finish by saying this: you don't have to eat chicken, rice and broccoli every day. (Gross.) You can have a treat or two. The important thing is balance. Eat clean and healthy most of the time, and you'll be doing just fine.
How do you stay on top of eating healthy while in school? I'd love to hear your tips!