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Healthy Eating Habits for College Students

author image Carly Schuna
Carly Schuna is a Wisconsin-based professional writer, editor and copy editor/proofreader. She has worked with hundreds of pieces of fiction, nonfiction, children's literature, feature stories and corporate content. Her expertise on food, cooking, nutrition and fitness information comes from years of in-depth study on those and other health topics.
Healthy Eating Habits for College Students
With dozens of food choices, sticking to what's healthy can be tough. Photo Credit Thinkstock/Stockbyte/Getty Images

Unhealthy eating habits can swing either way on a college campus -- the National Eating Disorders Association notes that the average college freshman gains about 2.5 to 3.5 pounds during his first year on campus, while between 25 percent and 32 percent of college students will battle an eating disorder. With limited time and limited budgets, college students face obstacles in building and maintaining healthy diets. Developing healthy eating habits may be challenging, but by making it a priority, a nutritious diet will become easier to integrate into your day-to-day life.

In the Dining Hall

An abundance of choice is both the dining hall’s best asset and biggest disadvantage. You know enough to steer clear of anything that's deep-fried, but it's also smart to limit foods that are processed, like breakfast cereal, white bread or canned fruit salad. At each meal, fill half of your plate with vegetables, accompanied by fruits, whole grains like oatmeal or wheat bread and lean proteins like hard-boiled eggs or white-meat chicken breast. Curries, veggie or tofu stir-fries and made-to-order omelets can all be healthy options too. If walking away from ice cream or pizza every day gets you down, let yourself indulge in moderation, with an occasional small serving that will feel like a real treat.

Off Campus

Not having a meal plan can be both freeing and limiting. You have the chance to plan healthy, balanced meals, but you may not always have the time to prepare them or the money to buy ingredients. Stick to a budget at the grocery store by buying healthy nonperishables like rolled oats, dry beans or brown rice, in bulk. Take time once a week to make a big batch of a healthy, easy meal, like veggie chili, and then freeze individual portions to eat in the coming days. Toss frozen veggies, which last longer than fresh and are often more affordable, into soups, stews and stir-fries. Finally, eat a snack before you shop or go out to a restaurant to cut down on impulse decision-making related to food. If you live in the dorms, use communal kitchens to prepare and store healthy meals, or warm up prepackaged but nutritious options like lentil soup, veggie curry or whole-grain pasta.

Smart Snacking

When you’re juggling days filled with classes, work, appointments and extracurriculars, you need high-quality food energy to keep you going. Snacking on healthy foods when you’re hungry can help you stay alert and avoid gorging at meals. Precut fruits and veggies, portioned out in zip-top bags, provide carbs for quick energy along with vitamins and minerals, without high calorie counts. Other smart options include granola bars, whole-grain crackers or veggie chips. High-protein snacks like hummus, hard-boiled eggs and cubes of low-fat cheddar cheese are also easily portable and more shelf-stable than other dairy options.

Drinking Up

Drinking is a prevalent part of campus culture, but it's also an easy way to put on unwanted weight. A typical alcoholic drink has at least 100 calories, so a night of binge drinking every week can contribute to weight gain of a pound or more every month. Drinking too much can also cause dehydration or electrolyte imbalances, which can affect both your mental and physical performance. Rather than overdoing it on alcohol, drink in moderation to save calories. To help fill you up and keep you hydrated, try to down a glass of water for every alcoholic drink you have.

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