The Ultimate Guidebook on How to Eat Healthy in College

Halthy eating has gained a reputation of being too expensive, for college students especially. But how do you eat healthy when you have a low budget?

Proper nutrition is vital for modern Americans. Obesity rates have risen in the United States and more than one-third of all young adults are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

Many of those among the overweight are often poor-income citizens, according to Kirsten A. Grimm, a public health professional.

Obesity causes young adults to be at risk for a slew of diseases like Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and gallbladder failure, reported by the CDC. These health problems can be tackled by applying proper nutrition to one’s lifestyle.

A good diet is not impossible for the average college kid. There are ways around the financial dilemma of healthy eating. The following guide can help college students make healthier eating choices from the dining courts, to off-campus residences and beyond.

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Eating Healthy in College Dining Courts

Most colleges serve their student body buffet-style. Students can pick their own choices inside dining courts and meal-plans are already paid for. This makes it easier to focus on deciding meals because students end up paying the same price, no matter how much they eat.

However, it is also a disadvantage. Research proves that when given the option, people tend to eat bigger portions and for longer at buffets. This increases caloric intake, which in turn causes obesity and other health problems.

To make nutritious decisions and avoid gorging yourself in the dining courts, follow a few simple tactics.

1. View your plate as a measuring tool.

Simply divide it into four sections. Make one-quarter of your plate reserved for vegetables and another quarter reserved for whole grain foods. The other two spaces on your plate should be split equally between white meats (like poultry and fish) and dairy.

This model is based off of a revised food pyramid created by Walter C. Willett, a professor at Harvard Medical School and the chairman of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard. Willett’s pyramid represents evidence distilled from forty years of research conducted at Harvard and around the world.

In Willett’s bestselling nutrition guide, “Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy: The Harvard Medical School Guide to Healthy Eating”, the professor explains how the original USDA pyramid is inaccurate and provides better food choices .

The guide, formed by someone with experience in a college setting, has all the information one would need on what to eat for good health.

Structuring your plate will force you to think about your food choices. Stick to the model and you can easily avoid overeating junk.

2. Eat Breakfast!

Data from multiple studies have shown that people who eat breakfast are less likely to overeat and snack later in the day. Replace your favorite cereal with fruits and oats. People are often lured by the bright colors and vibrant flavors of brand cereals but most of them are devoid of actual nutrition. You can even prepare a detox drink, or a protein smoothie. It doesn't take long.

“Manufacturers remove the most valuable part of the food and then add bleach, preservatives, salt, sugar, and food coloring to make breads, breakfast cereals, and other convenience foods,” says nutritional researcher, Joel Fuhrman M.D., author of “Eat to Live: The Amazing Nutrient-Rich Program for Fast and Sustained Weight Loss”.

Fuhrman’s book provides several meal plans and choices that college students can refer for healthier eating, some plans lasting up to three weeks.

3. Don’t jump straight into healthy eating.

If you suddenly pile on the greens when you’re used to fatty foods, you’ll only end up trashing most of your meal. Research says it takes time to acquire taste for new foods, and even longer before you start craving them. Slowly incorporate the foods into your diet to cement them into your taste palate and your diet.

Over time, the number of healthy foods you can eat (and even crave) will grow.

How to Eat Healthy On a Budget Off Campus

Time to move out of the dorms? Without the choices of the buffet-styled dining courts, some college kids may find themselves in a rut. Here are a few ways you can eat healthy on a budget without relying on dining court food.

4. Try your hand at cooking.

Invest in a few good cookbooks. There are plenty of easy, affordable recipes a college kid can work with. You can create amazing dishes out of cheap ingredients like turkey, zucchini, rice, or pasta.

“The most effective way my patients maintained healthy eating was by showing them what to eat and how to prepare it,” says certified doctor Alejandro Juger, the author of "Clean Eats: Over 200 Delicious Recipes to Reset Your Body's Natural Balance and Discover What It Means to Be Truly Healthy".

Juger’s book is stocked with recipes that result in fantastic dishes for college students and working adults alike. Even the most inexperienced of cooks could benefit from putting together their own healthy meals at home with the help of a good cookbook.

People who cook more than they eat out are not only healthier, but they save more money too, according to the American Society for Nutrition. “They consume fewer calories, less saturated fat and sodium, and more fiber and micro-nutrients per eating occasion,” says Juliana Cohen, a researcher in the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health.

5. Don’t buy brand foods.

The most profitable products are placed on eye level whereas cheaper, value products are at the bottom of the shelves. This process of product placement is known as planogramming. To save some money and find a bargain, reach for items on the lower shelves.

6. Buy frozen vegetables.

Frozen produce is cheaper and will last months unlike fresh vegetables which tend to spoil quickly. You still get the same amount of nutrients from the frozen vegetables, so long as you buy them in-season. “By the time they are consumed, most fresh, frozen, and canned fruits and vegetables seem to be nutritionally similar,” reported the American Council on Exercise.

7. Buy healthy foods in bulk.

“A 1-pound bag of brown rice, for example, sells for about $1.75 and cooks up into about 10 side servings -- that's just 18 cents a serving,” wrote Elaine Magee, MPH, RD. When you buy foods in bulk you have a much better deal and get more food for less money.

Bulk buys will last college students longer and serve useful when it comes to cooking large meals, which can be portioned off to eat at later times.

8. Keep a checklist ready.

Prepare a shopping list before heading out to avoid in-store distractions. If you shop without a good idea of what you want to buy, you may get distracted and overspend on foods you don’t need. This could lead to a dorm or apartment full of processed snacks and goodies.

Temptation while shopping could very well threaten healthy eating. Foods that people crave are usually a combination of sugar, fat, and salt. Those three things make food highly addictive and too much of any could be detrimental to one’s health.

Healthy Places to Eat Around Campus

Need a change of scenery? The dining courts are not the only places serving healthy meals. There are alternative, healthy options all over campus.

9. Find your local farmers market.

Vendors sell locally grown food and you can browse through the food stalls to see who has the best deal. It’s harder to buy bulk at the farmers markets since many vendors don’t sell huge amounts of food, but it’s a good place for a snack or a meal.

Instead of grabbing bag of chips from the vending machine you can purchase a piece of fruit from a vendor for the same price.

Many farmers markets frequent colleges along the western coastal states but if your college is in an agricultural area, it is possible farmers have been selling their produce on your campus.

10. Find a place to cook on campus.

Many college residence halls have public kitchens. Several study buildings and teacher lounges have them as well. If you have access to a kitchen you can cook anything you want. If the line for the public kitchen is too long or you don’t have time to cook everyday, just cook a huge meal to last the rest of the week.

Cooking meals and portioning them off to eat throughout the week will save you time and money. That way, you don’t have to keep seeking out the kitchen daily.

11. Eat at the grocery store.

Campus stores often have salad bars and hot bars students can choose from. These bars contain healthier options like soups, vegetables, meats and fruits.

12. Eat the best of fast food.

Some college kids just like eating out. If you’re going to get fast food no matter what, some of your best options are Panera Bread and Chipotle according to Health Magazine’s team of nutrition specialists.

It is better to avoid fast food altogether but if you need something quick and cheap, Panera Bread’s menu “makes it easy for everyone to choose healthy,” says dietitian Marisa Moore. The eatery allows customers to choose “half” portion sizes, effectively cutting calories in half.

Customers can have a soup, whole grain bread sandwiches, and apples.

Chipotle has become widely popular among American youth. Sales for the company has quadrupled since 1999 and new locations open up near college campuses every year. Healthy options to eat there are the fajita veggies and green tomatillo salsa. You can choose to have brown rice with your meal instead of white.

Just watch out for the calories! The average chipotle can contain up to 1000 calories, more than half of your daily required amount. To stay on the healthy side of eating, eat half of your meal and save the rest for later.

Healthy eating doesn’t have to break the bank. College students can eat healthy and still have cash to spare. Apply these twelve steps to your college experience and live a healthier, richer life.