You’ve heard it before- everyone will gain the much dreaded “Freshman 15” that haunts high schoolers as they make their transition into college. It just seems like everyone goes off to school and then comes back for break a few pounds heavier than when they left. Where do those pounds come from and how did they just seem to appear? Of course a good portion of weight comes from binge drinking and late-night pizza stops, but there is a whole other culprit just lurking in the shadows: dorm snacking and dining hall freedom! For the first time in your life, you’re free to eat when, where and how you want (including how much you want!). The excessive drinking and late-night munchies habit is pretty standard at any college and tough to break and/or give up completely. Here is where the good news comes in. You don’t need to give those things up in order to stay fit and healthy in college! Instead, focus on tackling your everyday eating habits, both in the dorms and through the university dining options. If you can make healthy eating choices for the most part, you’ll find that those late nights don’t have much of an effect on your body. That is, of course, as long as you don’t find yourself digging into a deep dish pizza multiple nights a week!
During high school, I was a pretty healthy eater, partly because I enjoyed healthy foods and trying new things, but also because the pantry and refrigerator were mostly stocked with healthy choices and because my mom cooks a lot of healthy and/or modified recipes. Fast forward to the summer before college. I needed to choose a meal plan, so I chose 14 meals a week, meaning I could eat lunch and dinner in the dining hall. Also, let’s be real here, who has time to walk and go get breakfast before class? We barely have enough time to scarf food down as it is. Anyway, I knew that I needed to buy food, specifically breakfast items and snacks for my room. Well let’s see, I will have a tiny fridge, no toaster (or oven, obviously), a microwave and some shelf room. So, what did I buy? I bought cold cereal, milk, pretzels and I think that’s about it. I realized pretty quickly that a bowl of cereal leaves me feeling full for a half hour at most, and pretzels get old and unsatisfying. I thought, “What else can I eat for breakfast? There are only so many bagels I can smuggle out of the dining room. I don’t have a stove, so how will I cook anything?”.
This, my friends, is where I got creative. I have been living in the dorms for three years now and have yet to stock my dorm with the typical goldfish, chips, and fruit snacks. I have picked up a few tricks over the last three years that have made dorm living healthy (and delicious!).
1. Stock Your Room With Hand Fruit.
This basket is ALWAYS filled. There are always bananas, at the least, but I often have apples, oranges and anything else that I can get my hands on!
2. Get Creative With Breakfast. Don’t Rely On Cereal and Snack Bars!
If I have learned anything by living in the dorms, it’s how to use what I have and get creative. I have a microwave, a container, a spoon, milk, and a collection of different grains. Each night before I go to sleep, I fill a container with a mixture of dry quinoa, steel-cut oats, barley, chia seeds, and raisins. (I also have farro and regular oats, which allows me to mix and match).
I leave it on my shelf, or in the fridge, and in the morning, I have “cooked” grains! It’s like magic!
I usually cover them with milk and cook everything in the microwave for a minute or two, but soaking them overnight makes them soft and edible just the way they are!
I then add half of a banana, and either Barbara’s Shredded Spoonfuls or Weetabix (or both) and cover everything with milk! Since I use a plastic container as a bowl, I can put a lid on and take breakfast to class with me.
It takes me a total of two minutes to make, and even less time if I don’t microwave anything! The key is to PLAN AHEAD! Breakfast always leaves me feeling full for at least three hours and this breakfast has a lot more “stick-to-your-ribs” power than the standard bowl of cereal. Mix-ins can be whatever you like- fresh fruit, nuts, cinnamon. I love trying new grains and new mix-ins. Get creative!
Pretty bare, right? Ideally, I would like to keep some veggies in there for munching and snacking (I think those are the same thing), but there aren’t any markets in walking distance. So, what do I keep hidden in there?
You’ll find that most of the things that I keep in my room are carbs. Yogurt gives me a nice break from the carbs when my stomach starts growling between lunch and dinner. It gives me a nice punch of protein, which keeps me full for a couple of hours. I take the single serving Chobani cups for a snack on-the-go. Lately, my favorite is Trader Joe’s plain non-fat Greek yogurt. Usually, I’m really not a huge fan of plain Greek yogurt because I don’t like the bitterness of it, but Trader Joe’s variety is much less bitter than anything I’ve tried. I top my yogurt with half of a banana, a spoonful or so of raisins and about a Tbs of peanut butter. It’s awesome. Trust me.
Almond Milk: I’m not a dairy milk drinker and I never have been. I don’t like the taste and now my stomach doesn’t like it either. I stick to almond milk and I LOVE it. I prefer the vanilla unsweetened variety, but this one is Trader Joe’s original. I put it on my cereal, or occasionally mix it into yogurt. Is that weird?
Salad dressing: I prefer simple dressings. You know, olive oil and vinegar or something vinaigrette-like. My school is pretty light on those options and fairly heavy on the ranch, blue cheese, caesar varieties. I used to just eat my salads plain, but then a genius idea hit me- buy a dressing that I actually like, and keep it in my room! This one is new to me. It’s Trader Joe’s Champagne Pear Vinaigrette. I like it, but I don’t love it.
I also have that mini cup of balsamic vinegar for when push comes to shove and I need to take my dressing on the go. I should probably think about throwing that out soon, though!
Hummus: it’s awesome for dipping crackers, putting on salad or bread, or you know, eating it by the spoonful. Ok, kidding. Maybe.
The Silk Soy Milk is for milk emergencies. As in,- “I ran out of almond milk! What do I do?!?”- type of emergencies. I picked that up from the dining hall, as well. Take advantage of the things you can take home!
4. Leave the Produce Up to Your Meal Plan!
Like I said before, I would love to have a bag of baby carrots or peppers stocked away in my fridge, but that just doesn’t seem to happen. I have learned not to fret over the lack of produce (besides fruit!) in my room, and I make sure to pack in all of my produce in the dining halls. These days, I probably average 1-2 meals (breakfast and lunch) on-the-go, and one meal in the dining hall. Meals on the go tend to be sandwiches and well, sandwiches, so I make sure to eat a salad or vegetables in another form during at least one meal.
I usually top my salads with some type of bean, as seen above. Chick peas and lentils!
5. Keep Healthy Meal and Snack Options in Your Dorm.
I don’t know about other schools, but at my school, lines for food during peak hours (11-1) and (6-7) are awfully long and buying something quickly isn’t really an option. Sure, they have grab & go, but even those lines can be over 30 minutes. No bueno. Instead of heading out to the food trucks for a quick meal, I make something in my room. I would LOVE to eat peanut butter sandwiches for every single meal (and they DO make their way into my diet quite often), but they aren’t the best option. Instead, I try to keep a bit of a variety on my shelf.
Clementines, 12 grain crackers, Weetabix, yogurt, almond milk, farro, barley, quinoa, raisins, bread, Trader Joe’s lentil soup, Fiberful granola bars and oatmeal.
I also keep steel-cut oats, chia seeds, peanut butter, craisins, tea, wheat-thin type crackers and candied ginger.
Other frequent goodies are trail mix and dried fruits.
I bought a lot of this stuff last week at Trader Joe’s (hence why there is so much from there), with the idea in mind that I needed to make some healthy meals with limited resources in my room. I bought the lentil soup and the bread, figuring that it could be a quick meal. One can of soup was enough for three lunches!
I ate it with a couple of slices of bread and half of a banana. The soup is on the salty side, which is to be expected from canned soup. It’s not perfect, but I think that it’s a much better option than a slice of pizza!
Warning: eat your bread quickly, as it might end up moldy after a few days. Hey, I guess it just means there aren’t many preservatives! Trader Joe’s customer service is awesome and replaced the loaf with no questions asked. I’m happy to report that I have a new, mold-free loaf that I have been enjoying all week!
Of course, ALL of these tips can be applied to living in an apartment or off campus. College students tend to eat what is quick and easy, but these healthy options are just as easy as sticking a Hot Pocket in the microwave.
I hope these tips are helpful (and interesting)! I plan to write about healthy eating on a college campus (in the dining halls) in the near future. Stay tuned!