Whether you’re planning to start your freshman year soon or your in the middle of your junior year, you probably want to know how to eat healthy in college. Just about everyone has heard of the dreaded Freshman 15 — the 15 pounds (more or less) that many incoming college students gain in their first year on campus. When you leave the comfort of your parent’s home — where you likely get home-cooked meals and regular doses of fruits and veggies — it can be hard to avoid gaining weight.
The Importance of Eating Healthy in College
Once you gain weight, it’s even harder to get rid of it. However, developing a healthy college meal plan isn’t all about weight management. It’s also about fostering positive habits and maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Most people assume that you need to be rich to have a healthy diet, but fortunately, that is not the case. So, let’s look at how to eat healthy in college on a budget!
Stop the Freshman 15 Before It Starts
It’s easy to understand why so many students gain weight during their first year of college. They’re away from home (possibly for the first time in their lives) and they want to enjoy a little freedom. Why not have ice cream for dinner? Why not eat an entire pizza at three in the morning? These bad decisions slowly add up, leading to extra pounds and potentially bad long-term habits.
Even though there’s no harm in enjoying your newfound freedom, you should try to be smart with food. Just because you’re parents aren’t around to tell you what to eat doesn’t mean you should go crazy and eat everything in sight. So, in order to stop the Freshman 15 before it starts, you need to come up with a healthy college meal plan ahead of time.
How to Create a Healthy College Meal Plan
Most colleges offer some kind of meal plan for students. The type of food — and the hours of availability — vary from school to school. However, meal plans are generally optional. So, let’s look at how to create a healthy college meal plan with or without your school’s help.
How to Eat Healthy in College Dining Halls
When you get a college meal plan, you have access to a wide array of foods at the dining hall — both healthy and unhealthy. You can get salads, vegan options, and lean meats.
However, you can also get greasy pizza, hamburgers, and lots of desserts. As a result, you need to develop a plan before you even arrive to practice moderation. Here is an example of a healthy college meal plan:
- Breakfast: eggs, toast, juice
- Lunch: salad, light dessert, water
- Dinner: pasta, water
- Breakfast: oatmeal, juice
- Lunch: sandwich, fresh fruit, tea or coffee
- Dinner: Vegetable soup, bread, light dessert, water
- Breakfast: Breakfast burrito, juice
- Lunch: Pizza, soft drink
- Dinner: Grilled fish, vegetables, water
- Breakfast: Bagel with cream cheese, fresh fruit, coffee or tea
- Lunch: Hamburger, french fries, soft drink
- Dinner: Salad, fresh fruit, water
- Breakfast: Cereal, tea or coffee
- Lunch: Stir-fried vegetables with rice, juice
- Dinner: Chili, bread, water
- Breakfast: Yogurt, fresh fruit, tea or coffee
- Lunch: Grilled fish, mashed potatoes, soft drink
- Dinner: Steak, vegetables, water, light dessert
- Breakfast: Grapefruit, tea or coffee
- Lunch: Lasagna, side salad, soft drink
- Dinner: Roasted chicken, vegetables, water, light dessert
This example shows a healthy plan for one week. Naturally, you can add some more variety to the mix. Additionally, you will be at the mercy of your school’s meal plan, but most schools offer enough healthy options and variety to make a meal plan like the one above.
Additionally, it’s important to note that you don’t have to eat healthy food 100% of the time. You can have an occasional soft drink, hamburger, or dessert. The key is to make these foods a small part of your diet.
Moreover, you should practice portion control with all of your meals. Many college meal plans offer buffets for students, which can make it really hard to keep the pounds off!
Making Your Own Meal Plan
Now let’s see how you can make a healthy meal plan without food provided by your school. This is where it can get much tougher. A school meal plan is generally pre-paid, whereas a self-made meal plan requires you to budget, buy, and cook your own food.
First, you need to set your budget. How much do you have to spend on food every week? If you have a really tight budget, you will need to plan your weekly meal plan very carefully. Fortunately, there are many cheap ways to eat healthy in college.
However, the meal plan doesn’t have to change significantly, even if you’re making the food on your own. That said, we’ve included some foods that are easier to make for college students with limited cooking experience. Though costs will vary, you can make the meal plan above with anywhere from $100-$200 per week.
More Cheap Ways to Eat Healthy in College
Finally, let’s look at a few final tips for people who need to buy and cook their own food. These are especially useful for people who want to know how to eat healthy in college on a budget:
- Fruits and veggies – Not only are fruits and vegetables good for you, but they’re usually pretty cheap. Look for cheap fruits like apples, bananas, and oranges. As far as vegetables, you have a wide array of options, but veggies like broccoli, lettuce, cabbage, spinach, potatoes, and carrots are all very affordable. Fruits and veggies will give you the vitamins and minerals you need for a healthy diet.
- Eggs and beans – It’s important to get enough protein in your diet, but meats like beef and chicken can be a little expensive. Instead, look to eggs and beans. These are two cheap and healthy ways to get your daily dose of protein.
- Rice and pasta – While you don’t want to eat too many carbs, you will need them for energy. Rice and pasta are two very cheap options that also help fill you up. If you’re looking for ways to save money, rice and pasta can help you eat more while spending less.
- Avoid soft drinks – It’s ok to have soft drinks from time-to-time, but if you’re trying to save money, soft drinks are not a good idea. They cost extra money and add absolutely nothing of value to your diet. Instead, replace soda with water, tea, coffee, and fruit juice.
We hope you found this guide on how to eat healthy food in college useful!
About the Author
Lori Bogedin is a health and wellness writer and editor of TwigsCafe.com. She is in the restaurant business since 1999. In 2016 she was named one of the "Top Women in Business" by Northeastern Pennsylvania Business Journal.