What are healthy alternatives for college students?

Dinnertime on a college campus can look like a free-for-all of sodium, trans fat, and cholesterol. Cafeterias are famous for greasy favorites like pizza and French fries, and often the fruits and veggies are far from fresh – or appetizing. Healthy eating is essential for feeling and performing at your best level, so it’s worth it to spend a few bucks on the good stuff.

Avoiding the Bad

Mac ‘n cheese, side of fries, a Coke, and vanilla ice cream for dessert. Sounds delicious right? According to Sodexo, a popular college dining hall supplier, that 5-cheese macaroni dish serves up 560 calories, 26 grams (g) of fat (17 of them trans fat!), 900 miligrams (mg) of sodium, and 65 mg of cholesterol. And those fries we all love so much? A 4 oz. serving contains 113 calories, 16 g of fat, and 35 mg of sodium – and that’s before you load on the extra salt. If that’s one meal, and not even a full one for many students, think of how much junk you’re ingesting over the course of the day, between breakfast, lunch, dinner, and all those snacks and drinks. Campus dining hall foods are geared toward instant satisfaction with minimal cost and effort, so it’s up to you – not the food preparers – to make the healthy decisions and select alternatives. No one’s saying you can’t have fries or ice cream every once in a while, but balancing it out with whole grains, fresh veggies and fruits, light dairy, and fiber- and protein-rich food cuts the calories, toxins, and the guilt.

Your Better Bets

Being responsible for your own healthy eating can seem overwhelming, but the truth is, most things you’ll buy fresh in the grocery store are a zillion times better for you than the dishes served up in the dining hall.  If you choose to go organic, you’ll see a higher price tag, but you still don’t have to break the bank to go healthy. Buy fruits and vegetables while they’re in season for the best price, and you can even freeze or vacuum-seal foods to have them fresh even longer. These are great for snacking and for adding to home-cooked meals, like lean meats, chicken, and fish. Whole grain pastas and rice are inexpensive and versatile enough to add to virtually any meal. For breakfast, lunch, and snacks, think eggs, yogurt, sandwiches on whole grain bread, granola bars, and trail mix. These items will do double duty for an afternoon or late-night study-break snack. Keep some baggies filled with apples or celery sticks with peanut butter, carrot sticks, cheese and whole-grain crackers, and fruit so you’ll have protein-filled munchables ready to go when you’re running out the door for class or to meet friends. Filling up on the healthy stuff will leave you less likely to binge on the grease and calories in the cafeteria.

Higher Cost, But A Huge Reward

Sure, it’ll take you a little extra time and a few extra dollars to ensure healthy eating at college. But it’s possible, and you’ll be happy you did it. Choosing foods that keep you energized, focused, and feeling good will keep your head in the game and your mind focused. Taking a break from the fatty foods will leave you feeling lighter and in a better mood. Preparing meals with friends is a great excuse to get together and you’re sure to have fun doing it. Who needs the cafeteria social hour when you can run your own at home?

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