The dreaded “Freshmen 15” is largely a myth. Very few college students gain more than a few pounds during their first year of college. Luckily for college students, they’re young and active enough that their bodies can adapt to the major changes in diet and habit that come with the transition to college.
However, in college we set some habits that will carry over throughout our lives, and our bodies won’t be able to counter the effects of bad eating habits forever. College is usually a time when people develop or lose control with eating disorders like binge eating or bulimia, a dangerous addiction that can lead to other troubling behavior.
Not only does diet affect the way we look and feel, it can affect our ability to process thoughts, plan, and focus.
Here are a handful of food-related skills that every college student needs to learn in order to establish healthy eating habits for life:
Say No to Free food
Some of us never learn this. But for me, it was especially hard in college. Even when I wasn’t pinching pennies, there was a mentality that I had to seize opportunities whenever they happened, so whenever free donuts were offered, I had to say yes… even though I didn’t like them. Or I’d jump at the offer of free pizza… even though I’d already had dinner and wasn’t really hungry. I started to chant a mantra to myself. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean I need it.
Cook Rice (and other base grains)
So, you’re broke. And you don’t have time to make elaborate meals every day. You probably translate those two statements into the need to stock up on Hot Pockets whenever they’re on sale, and ramen noodles by the crate. But the world was built on cheap, easy staples that make up the bulk of the human diet. For example: rice! It’s cheap, it’s filling, and it’s not hard to make, once you get the gist. You can pick up a huge bag of rice, dried beans, or pasta for almost nothing. Cooking only takes 10 minutes. In the case of beans, it takes an overnight soak, and then 10 minutes. And you can prepare those foods in a huge variety of ways. Seriously, you can do this!
Make a Nutritious, No-Added-Sugar Breakfast
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, right? And yet, for most of us, it’s when we set the pattern of an unhealthy sugar rush for the rest of the day. If you can make yourself a breakfast free of added sugars before you go out the door, you’re ahead of 80% of the American population. Instead of picking up a muffin and coffee on your way to your first class, make time for an omelette. Make some oatmeal sweetened with applesauce. If you don’t have any time at all, grab a banana. Fruit are nature’s perfect breakfast, pre-packaged and everything.
Cook Potatoes Three Different Ways
In the same vein as #2, potatoes should be a staple food whenever you’re living cheap. For many of us, potatoes have the added benefit of being a comfort food. While there are plenty of unhealthy ways to cook them, there are also plenty of ways that they can be a healthy part of your diet. They last a long time in your cupboard, unlike other vegetables, and all you really have to do is bake one and add some chili on top for a really good meal.
Make a Salad You Actually Like
For me, making a salad that feels like a treat means adding bacon bits and shredded cheese sometimes. For you, it might be simply a matter of finding a dressing you really like. Make the salad ahead in bulk and then have it available for lunch, snacking, and tupperware containers. Remember that salad doesn’t have to be limited to iceberg lettuce. Make salads out of beans, cucumbers, quinoa, and parsley. Explore different ways to eat veggies and find one that actually works for you.
Make a Meal You’re Actually Proud Of
Most of the staples of healthy eating consist of daily habits that are quick, easy, and enjoyable for you. However, every now and then you need to impress someone. If you have a dinner party, if you’re inviting friends over, if your parents are in town, or you want to show off for a special someone, you’re going to need a standby impressive meal. Note that these don’t have to be that difficult or expensive. For example, my standby is a crock pot roast. I also like to make baked chicken and wild rice. It wows people, is healthy, and doesn’t take long for me at all.
Learn to Use Herbs and Spices
There’s a reason that spices drove British colonialism and sparked conflict throughout the world for most of human history. Without them, food is boring! Knowing a few favorite spices and how to use them will keep you from getting bored of your staples. If can even mask the fact that you can never cook that chicken quite right. I used to grab Creole seasoning at the grocery store and use it liberally on chicken and potatoes.If you feel like getting really ambitious, try growing your own kitchen herb garden and learning to use the flavors you have there.