For many students who are away from home for the first time in their young lives, the new-found freedom of college promises to be a riotous mixture of new friends and old foods in immoderate quantities. Instead of being an occasional treat, junk food becomes the norm.
Nutrition is pushed far to the sidelines as excited students dash from one class to another, anticipating beery revelry after the drudgery of homework. Even for more sedate pupils, nutrition can become a neglected chore in the daily bustle of campus life. Health can suffer significantly from extended exposure to this dietary chaos.
Defending the Ramparts of Health
The challenge of eating well in college does not need to be overwhelming. Students who do their own grocery shopping at local stores will have the best choices, but school cafeterias do frequently offer a variety of more nutritious foods interspersed with their less-healthy buffets of sugary confections and high-fat indulgences. It is easy enough to acquire a few effective habits that will push away the grim soldiers of subtle malnutrition.
Daily breakfast: Waking up in the morning to a filling breakfast will result in the avoidance of anxious hunger pains later in the day that can lead all too easily to uncontrolled gobbling of tasty treats without regard to actual need. Being satisfied early in the day with a balanced meal also means better concentration as quickly metabolized carbohydrates are fed right away to a hungry brain. General health will gradually improve from having regularly started the day with a good dollop of essential vitamins and minerals.
Regular meals: Wellness is best served by feeding the body throughout the day and not attempting to motor along on fumes. Weight control will be easier with the regular consumption of balanced meals and occasional, small snacks that serve to continually meet nutritional needs and boost morale.
Healthy larder: Keeping on hand a stock of healthy foodstuffs will make it far easier to stay on course. Low-fat milk, cheeses and yogurt provide high-quality protein and many vitamins and minerals such as calcium; whole-grain products such as crackers, breads, oatmeal and granola bars are filling and richer in nutrition than their more processed counterparts; lean chicken and pork can be cooked in delicious ways and will easily round out typical daily requirements for high-quality protein and micronutrients; canned tuna offers excellent, low-cost protein that can be rapidly mixed with a few ingredients such as low-fat mayonnaise and sweet relish to yield quick sandwich fixings; fresh fruits such as apples, bananas and oranges, which contain tasty, complex carbohydrates with a plethora of vitamins and minerals, can be eaten entire or peeled and crammed into a blender with ice for refreshing smoothies; dried fruits and nuts make attractive, quick snacks when combined together as trail mix; and many vegetables can be munched raw as snacks or quickly cooked along with other ingredients in a little canola or olive oil to create remarkably tasty meals.
Smart scavenging: Students on the prowl for nourishment while away from their dormitories or off-campus housing units should hunt for menus that sport such words or phrases as the following: garden fresh, steamed, broiled, baked, grilled, poached, roasted, and in its own juice. These terms generally indicate that the chefs have focused on avoiding additional oils or fats and on allowing existing fats to drip away from the cooked food. Another tactic is to seek pre-made, whole-grain sandwiches with few fatty ingredients and fresh salads that have been assembled with a variety of nutritious vegetables. Lighter salad dressings such as vinaigrettes can be applied sparingly, adding much flavor with few additional calories.
Realistic portions: The frantic advertising of the fast-food industry has led to unreasonable expectations for portion sizes, which should be small and satisfying rather than huge messes that bloat the stomach and sap vitality. It is best to eat a reasonable meal calculated to be filling, then to stop and wait for at least a half-hour before considering whether to eat more; the odds are good that any remaining sharp appetite will have disappeared after the body has had a chance to begin digesting and absorbing nutrients from the meal.
Avoidance of sugary beverages: Soft drinks can contain astonishing amounts of processed sugars, which are essentially empty calories with very little nutritional value. Carrying a water bottle and satisfying thirst whenever it occurs is likely to significantly reduce the unnecessary snacking that commonly can result from the transient confusion of thirst with hunger.
Staying Active and Alert
Mild, regular exercise such as walking or cruising about on a bicycle will greatly aid fitness and health, as well as reduce impulse snacking from momentary bouts of boredom or frustration with homework or social situations. A vigorous life while in college is by no means incompatible with satisfying, tasty snacks and meals that leave students feeling at the top of their games.