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Eating on Campus 101

 

Wondering how to tackle eating at college or boarding school? Many students say it’s hard to maintain healthy habits when away at school. The overwhelming number of food choices, buffet-style dining, odd class schedules, and late nights studying and socializing can wreak havoc on eating habits. But they don’t have to! Here are some tips to help you navigate eating on campus.
 
Strive for balance
Our bodies use carbohydrates, protein and fat to fuel our brain, muscles and organ systems. Including foods from several different food groups at most meals and snacks ensures that you receive the right balance of macronutrients to help you feel your best. A good rule of thumb is to try to fill half your plate with veggies and fruit, and the other half with protein and grains. A well-balanced breakfast might consist of oatmeal topped with fruit and nuts, eggs and toast with a piece of fruit, or a granola bar and peanut butter. A balanced lunch or dinner could be a chicken/veggie stir-fry with rice, pizza and salad, pasta and meatballs with a side of vegetables, or a chicken sandwich with lettuce, tomato and a side of chips.
 
Choose the best fuel source
Carbohydrates are great quick sources of energy but they don’t keep us full for very long, while fat and protein foods promote a greater sense of satiety because they digest more slowly. If you start to feel hungry around 12pm but don’t have time for lunch until 1pm, a carbohydrate-based snack like a piece of fruit or handful of crackers will likely do the trick. However, if you start to feel hungry at 3pm and know that your next opportunity for a meal isn’t going to be until 6 or 7pm, opt for a more substantial snack with protein and/or fat, such as yogurt topped with nuts and fruit, or guacamole and chips.
 
Don’t skip meals
Making sure you carve out time for regular meals and snacks is not only important; it’s biologically necessary! We generally start to experience symptoms of hunger somewhere between 2-4 hours after our last meal or snack. Ignoring these hunger signals can affect your mood, metabolism, ability to concentrate, and could eventually cause you to overdo it when you finally do sit down to eat. Even if it means grabbing a pre-made sandwich and taking it with you to class, make time for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and rely on snacks to fuel you in between.
 
Listen to your body
It’s great to have a plan in place, but it’s just as important to eat according to what sounds good to you. A meal always feels more satisfying when you truly want to be eating it. So take some time to ask yourself: “What am I in the mood for?” “How hungry am I?” Don’t opt for the salad bar at dinner if what you really want is a burger and fries. Likewise, if you had a large lunch and aren’t feeling particularly hungry at dinner, there’s no need to force yourself to eat more than your body needs just because all of your friends are enjoying a big meal. Eat according to your own needs and not anyone else’s.
 
Stock up on staples
Keep some convenience foods in your dorm for times when making it to the dining hall just isn’t an option. Keep shelf stable items like peanut butter, nuts, seeds, cereal and soup on hand, and make some room in your mini fridge for other nourishing foods like cheese, hummus and fruit.
 
Be flexible
Remember, balance is achieved over the course of the day or even the week; not every meal has to be nutritionally sound. Food is fuel, but it is also meant to be enjoyable. A cookie will never be as nutritious as an apple, but cookies taste delicious and can be a very satisfying source of carbohydrate and fat during a much needed study break. We need a balance of nutritious foods to help us feel our best, but our bodies are well-equipped to handle non-nutritious food sometimes too.

 

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