Teaching college students healthy eating habits actually starts at home before the student leaves for college. Most students, and adults, learn best from role models. People learn and model the actions of the people they admire and are friends with. College students are no different. If they come from families with healthy eating habits, then most probably they will start out their college career with healthy habits. It all changes though, when they start their third week of college.
By this time they’ve made new acquaintances and friends. They have been thrown into a strange environment and asked to accomplish college level work when their brains have just left high school. They are juggling school work and potentially, a part-time job. This would be challenging for an adult, and is definitely challenging for an 18 year-old who is most probably away from home for the first time.
College students who are living in the dormitory or in an apartment share the common struggle of finding good choices that are cost efficient. Eating at college means little equipment, little cooking experience and little money. All this adds us to poor choices, high fat and highly processed foods.
Cooking at college is different from cooking at home. First, most college students don’t know how to cook. Next, their apartment kitchens aren’t fully stocked the way that their mother’s was. And those who stay in the dormitories must face the food choices from the college.
There are a few simple rules to follow for college students that will allow them to indulge in the Friday night pizzas without gaining 10 pounds for each year they are in college. The first rule is to remember that food is the fuel that your body needs to keep your brain fed and energized. Without the proper foods your brain won’t dish out the answers you need. The proper foods aren’t hard to find and can be cost effective.
The next rule is to remember that all work and no play leaves the college student out of shape and without energy. Our bodies thrive on physical activity and a hard course of study means students are stuck behind a desk for hours on end. Make time for a strong workout several times a week to improve your concentration level, productivity, energy, weight control and stress relief. Exercise can do all that!
Next, you need to learn to listen to your body. When you are really hungry you should eat and when you feel full you should stop. Remember that we eat to live and not live to eat. You should also know that your first sign of dehydration – before thirst – is a feeling of being hungry. So stay fully hydrated by drinking 8 8-ounces of water each day. Be sure the drinks don’t contain caffeine, like soft drinks, because this will only dehydrate you. Now when you feel hunger you’ll be assured you really are hungry.
What if you can’t find something from the dining hall that meets your needs? You can try being creative. Look around at what’s being offered. Maybe you can combine some chicken and a salad or eat several salads if all else fails.
Don’t skip meals. It may seem to be productive to run from one class to the next without stopping for a quick bite but this only leaves your brain without any energy or ‘food’. You’ll have trouble concentrating, you’ll get a headache or feel like you didn’t get much out of your class.
Try to skip the fried foods, refined grains, whole milk, and sweetened drinks for grilled or baked foods, whole grains, low fat milk, baked potato/veggie or fruit. The old expression of ‘a moment on the lips, forever on the hips’ has truth to it. Those French Fries may taste good for the moment but it will not feed your brain what it needs to get you through college.
Keep healthy snacks in your room for when you get those munchies. You won’t be so tempted to grab a candy bar from the machine if you have granola bars, popcorn, trail mix or nuts stashed in the room. If you have a fridge in the room add string cheese, yogurt, baby carrots, hummus, and flavored water seltzers.
Teaching college students healthy eating habits starts at home. When students begin school with a good base they are able to maintain good habits.
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