Avoid the Freshman 15 With These Healthy College Eating Tips

FightCamp - Avoid The Freshman 15 With These Healthy College Eating Tips

Starting college can lead to unhealthy eating habits and poor nutrition. Here are a dietitian’s favorite tips for staying healthy as a college freshman.

Published: August 4, 2022

Topics: Nutrition, Wellness

Author: Carolina Schneider, MS, RD

How Can a College Student Eat Healthy?

The thought of starting your college life can be exhilarating and exciting, but also quite scary. That’s because, for most people, this is the first time they will be on their own, having to take care of themselves. This means washing clothes, managing their class schedule, developing a fitness routine, and most importantly, eating. The thought of eating seems simple, right? Well, if you were used to having someone plan your meals and cook for you, then eating in college will be quite an adjustment.

As easy as it may seem, it can be challenging to make healthy choices, especially when there’s fast food around or you are being offered free pizza and cookies at every campus event. Plus, a student’s budget is tight, so buying fresh, organic foods is likely out of the question. If you’re on a meal plan, you may find it overwhelming to walk into the cafeteria and come across so many options, most of which are indulgent but not nutritious. If you’re not careful, you will quickly go from eating mom’s homemade chicken with veggies to French fries and ramen noodles. This sudden change in eating habits can lead to unwanted weight gain, a phenomenon referred to as ‘Freshman 15.’

Freshman 15 is not only a problem because of the weight gain but also because students’ diets often lack essential vitamins and minerals. Inadequate nutrient intake can lead to a weakened immune system, low energy levels, poor sleep quality, and difficulty concentrating. All of these symptoms can affect a student’s ability to perform well both physically and mentally. Luckily, there are simple tips you can follow to stay healthy during your college years without breaking the bank. Get your notebook (or should we say tablet?) and take notes.

Healthy Eating Tips for College Students

Stock Up on Nutritious Yet Convenient Items

FightCamp - Eating Healthy in College

Living on campus can be fun, but dorms are not always the most cooking-friendly environment. That’s because most dorms contain only a mini fridge and a microwave, and if you’re lucky, you may be allowed to bring a toaster oven. With such limited ways to make your food, stocking up on ready-to-eat or minimum-prep items can make a huge difference to ensure you get a nutritious meal regularly. Plus, it will save your wallet as these foods are pretty inexpensive.

Here are items you should always have in your dorm room:

  • Breakfast foods: Instant oatmeal, whole grain cereal, low-fat cottage cheese, Greek yogurt, fresh fruits, eggs, low-fat milk, or plant-based milk

  • Low-sodium canned beans and chickpeas

  • Low-sodium canned soups

  • Minimum-prep fruits such as bananas, apples, pears, grapes, and peaches

  • Multigrain bread and crackers

  • Natural peanut butter

  • Canned tuna

  • Rotisserie chicken

  • Granola bars and protein bars (look for ones with less than 5 grams of sugar per serving)

  • Hummus

Make Regular Visits to the Salad Bar

FightCamp - Eating Healthy in College

In the dining hall, you’ll usually find different food stations, ranging from salad bars and vegetarian meals to burgers and fries. This is where willpower comes into place. It’s easy to become tempted by all the non-nutritious, ‘junk’ foods available, so you will need to make it a point to fill your plate with colorful vegetables from the salad bar. One good way to ensure this happens is to set goals for yourself, such as ‘I will fill at least ⅓ of my plate with vegetables every day.” An even better goal is to follow the healthy plate guideline, which means you will fill your plate in the following manner:

  • ½ of plate: Fruits and vegetables, preferably leafy greens and colorful vegetables

  • ¼ of plate: Lean proteins, preferably legumes, poultry, fish, or seafood

  • ¼ of plate: Whole grains, preferably brown rice, quinoa, farro, or whole wheat pasta

By doing this, you are ensuring that your meals are nutritious and balanced with all macronutrients.

Scout for Nutritious Food Options on Campus

Going to college 10 years ago was much different than going to college today, especially when it comes to food options. Universities now take nutrition very seriously and are concerned with offering options for students with different dietary needs and restrictions. From smoothie bars, to poke bowls, and plant-based options, eating healthy on campus has never been so easy. Still, a good practice is to familiarize yourself with the options available, especially if you are on a meal plan. Most often, meal plans only include specific locations on campus, so knowing the healthy options you have access to is a great idea. One way to do this is to identify the healthiest items on the menu before you order, for example, choosing grilled chicken instead of fried, opting for meals that include vegetables or salad, avoiding heavy sauces and dressings, and asking for a side of fruit instead of chips.

Always. Pack. Snacks.

FightCamp - Eating Healthy in College

In your first two years of college, you’ll be lucky if you have time in between classes and the gym to eat a proper meal. Usually, you will have back-to-back activities, with only enough time to walk from one classroom to the next. Plus, eating in class is often not allowed. So, what do you do? You pack several healthy snacks to eat in-between classes. This means you will need to buy these snacks at the grocery store (or order them online). Try to avoid buying snacks from vending machines that are filled with sugary, salty, tempting treats.

Here are the best snacks to bring with you for a long day of classes:

  • Trail mix: Mixed nuts with dried fruits (make your own for a cheaper option)

  • Low-sugar granola and protein bars (less than 5 grams of sugar per serving)

  • Rice cakes or whole-grain crackers with natural peanut butter

  • Shelf-stable fruits such as bananas, apples, and peaches

  • No-bake energy balls

  • Lightly salted popcorn and pretzels

  • Veggie snacks or roasted chickpeas

  • Roasted seaweed snacks

Refrigerated snacks (must be consumed within two hours)

  • Pre-cut vegetables with hummus or cottage cheese

  • Protein shakes

  • Fruit smoothies

  • Yogurt parfait with berries

Be Open-minded to Trying New Things

If you’re lucky, you’ll be exposed to diverse groups of people, which will allow you to learn about different ways of living and ways of eating. If you grew up eating the same foods regularly, having group meals and cookouts are great ways to make new friends while trying new foods. Many cultures make plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains, the center of their meals, so you may get to try new ways of eating healthy, which you can always adopt as part of your lifestyle. So, be open-minded and consider attending (or hosting) a potluck with friends so that you can share each other’s favorite recipes while having a good time.

Finding Balance

FightCamp - Eating Healthy in College

Finding a balance between having fun and taking care of yourself while in college is a skill that takes practice. It’s important that you immerse yourself in the college experience without losing sight of your health and well-being. By following these five simple tips, you will be able to nourish your body without sacrificing your gut, wallet, or your social life. Remember, what you put into your body fuels both your physical health and your mental health, so enjoy the occasional ice cream, but eat your daily veggies!

Train Like a Fighter in College

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Carolina Schneider, MS, RD is a registered dietitian specializing in plant-based nutrition and wellness. She is passionate about evidence-based nutrition and educating individuals on how to eat well for good health.

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