Healthy Eating Guide
For years, many of us have relied on parents to cook food and monitor our health. But now that you’re in college (or about to start), it’s time to learn a few vital life skills, including cooking. With academics, extracurriculars, and deadlines, college is not exactly the easiest environment to develop healthy eating habits. You’ve probably heard of the “Freshman 15” in which college students are assumed to gain at least 15 pounds in their first year of college due to the development of bad eating habits. During finals week especially, you’ll be tempted to sacrifice meals and sleep for just a little more time to study. DO NOT FALL INTO THIS TRAP. STEP AWAY FROM THE TOP RAMEN.
As a fulltime student, you are not required to give up your health in the name of academia. In fact, you’ll be able to function much better with a diet that covers the essential food groups, resulting in better grades and a better college experience.

Meal Plans
If you are a freshman and/or live in the dorms, chances are your school included a meal plan in your housing costs. Meal points can be used at university dining halls and campus food places. For example, UC Berkeley has a store where meal points can also be used for non-food items such as paper towels or trash bags. (But you’ll be using points for food, for the most part.) Dining halls aren’t known for having the healthiest options (whether they advertise it or not) because it is a buffet-style free-for-all with both good options (typically salad bars, fruits, milk, water, etc.) and bad options (hello, unlimited dessert bar and fountain drinks.) It’s up to you which foods you choose, and being given that power can be a dangerous thing. Remember to eat a good mix of meat, grains, and veggies. Skip the soda, and eat fruit for dessert if you can. A little bit of ice cream once in a while is fine, but if you’re having dessert every single day (which you’ll find isn’t actually a common practice outside of restaurants and parties), the unwanted calories and sugars will quickly pack on.

Cooking Tips
Some dorms have a kitchen area where you can cook, but this advice is mostly for students living in apartments. Your college might be surrounded by quick take-out places or convenient home delivery, and you’re a busy person. Naturally, you may feel inclined to order out all the time. However, most people don’t pay much attention to the calories or ingredients in the food they order. By cooking, you’ll know exactly what is put into your meals. Plus, you’ll be saving a lot of money as some of the healthier base ingredients are on the cheaper side! So if you can, try to cook more often than you eat out. To start out, try to eat breakfast and dinner at home, since your lunch time will probably be wedged between classes (though this can be negated by preparing your meals in advance.)
If you’ve never cooked before, start with the basics. Learn how to make eggs—sunny-side up, over-easy, scrambled, etc. Scrambled eggs was a staple breakfast of mine for years, and I was able to experiment by putting in all kinds of things like cheese, tomatoes, or scallions just to keep it interesting. An easy dinner would be a colorful plate of rice, meat (usually chicken, a cheap and healthiest protein) with some garlic (and sometimes onion) thrown in, and vegetables on the side. Cooking may look complicated on Master Chef, but it’s simply throwing things into a pan and making sure everything is the right color. A good way to judge how healthy a meal is would be the variety of colors on the plate.
If you’re still wary of the stove, you can always go the green route. Toss some lettuce, tomatoes, mozarella, pine nuts, and strawberries or blackberries into a bowl with a drizzle of vinaigrette dressing for a zesty, sweet, and light lunch. Salads don’t have to be boring—in fact, they are very flexible and you can try all kinds of combinations to see what you like best. Never be afraid to experiment with cooking!
If you’re still unsure of what to make or would like to change it up a bit, you can also try looking online for instructional videos and websites. There are many pages specifically made for college students on a budget who are looking for healthier options.

Prep meals early and establish a routine.
Get into the habit of making sandwiches, tossing a salad, cutting fruit, or preparing a bagged lunch the night before you’ll need it. Much of cooking time is put into the food prep, not that actual cooking. So if you can have the ingredients ready several hours before during your gap, you can come home from class and start cooking right away. My roommate would slice fruits for breakfast or smoothies the day before her 8AMs to ensure a healthy start to her day. In the morning, she’d take everything out of the fridge, put it together, and be out the door in time for class. She ended the school year with stellar grades because she had the energy to work hard.
Once you establish a routine like her, you will no longer have to “find” time in your schedule to eat—it’ll already be a part of your schedule. Decide what you’d like to eat for the week (or at least the first two days), when you’ll have time to prep it (the night before or in between scheduled gaps), and when you’ll be able to eat it.

Don’t over-stuff yourself. In fact, don’t stuff yourself at all.
My sister recently said that at buffets, she feels like she needs to eat her money’s worth. Some people think they must eat until they’re uncomfortably full because they don’t want to leave any leftovers. DON’T DO THIS. Leftovers are fine—in fact, leftovers save money. Avoid all-you-can eat places if you feel you won’t get your money’s worth. If you do go to buffets, only take what you know you can eat. It’s better to eat several small meals than one gigantic one because you need room for water, gas, and digestion.
In the same vein, NEVER super-size anything. Yes, you may be getting more bang for your buck, but you don’t need that much food in the first place. American portions are known to be far larger than they need to be already, so the normal size (or even a small size) of anything is more than enough for you.

Grocery Shopping
I try to go grocery shopping every 2 weeks for basic healthy snacks (bananas, grapes, granola), milk, eggs, and meat. Depending on where you are, the grocery store might be closer or farther. If it’s farther away, you may look into carpooling with friends—grocery shopping can actually make for a fun social event! Again, you’ll want to stay away from the temptation of junk food or quick “meals” like instant ramen. Even if you think you don’t have time, try to make it to the grocery store every 2 weeks (every week is even better!) The fresher your food is, the healthier it will be. Chances are, anything that is canned or can be stored for a long time will not be the best thing to eat (except for maybe nuts and trail mix.) Microwavable/instant meals, processed food, and other long-lasting foods may be convenient, but they certainly are not healthy.

Skip the coffee/energy drinks
Go for water or tea instead. I can’t count how many students that use coffee and energy drinks throughout their college careers. Their reasoning is that they need the energy in order to study, but with that unnatural boost of energy comes the inevitable sugar crash. If you drink coffee and energy drinks, you aren’t allowing your body to rely on its natural energy acquired by eating healthy food. It also messes up your sleep schedule and in turn, messes up your eating schedule as well. These drink are addictive in nature and the more room you take up with coffee, the less room you’ll have for the foods that matter. Remember, you need to drink at least 8 glasses of water per day to keep hydrated.

Invest in a blender
If you’re like me, you’ll like all kinds of fruits but struggle to eat some vegetable. I find that one of the best ways to get your daily dose of greens is to hide the flavor in a blended concoction with flavors you do enjoy. Smoothies are a sweet and healthy way to consume fruits and vegetables. You can even toss in a little milk or yogurt to make them creamier and healthier. Similar to cooking, you have the freedom to experiment with anything you think would go well together. And the best part of smoothies is that their sweetness comes from natural sugars rather than artificial sugars.

Oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal!
Some people eat oatmeal for breakfast, but it’s definitely a meal that can be customized for breakfast, lunch, or dessert. It all depends on what you throw into it. You may think oatmeal looks disgusting and plain but with the right ingredients, it can taste delicious! Some people like to squeeze some honey into it, use cinnamon and apples, or cut up some strawberries and bananas for breakfast or dessert. Others will top theirs off with a fried egg for a savory taste. And if you’re a creative cook like my cousin, you can try transforming oatmeal into bars, muffins, or even a pizza crust!

And finally…Avoid alcohol
If you’re under the drinking age, you shouldn’t be engaging in this anyway. Beer = beer belly. But seriously, drinking alcohol can take a serious toll on your brain, heart, liver, and immune system. Drinking and partying may be the stereotypical college experience, overconsumption can be a dangerous thing.

Regardless of your major, family life, or prior eating habits, any college student could stand to eat a bit healthier to benefit his or her body and mind. Follow one or all of the steps above and you’ll be on your way to a better college experience!