An Easy Guide to Eating Well in College
Eating well is essential to maintaining good health, but for a lot of college students, nutrition is viewed as a nuisance rather than a priority. During my first year at UChicago, just fitting in three meals a day was difficult, let alone ensuring my body was getting the nutritional balance it needed. Everyday, I would squeeze in as many trips to the dining hall as I could and try to fill up on whatever looked somewhat appetizing, but I found that I was still perpetually hungry, tired, and - most surprisingly - losing weight.
My mom suggested that I consult Chicago-based nutritionist, and founder of La Dolce Vita Nutrition, Renata Orr about creating a routine to combat the difficulty of eating well at school. Over a series of weekly sessions, both over Skype and in person, Mrs. Orr and I developed a simple, sustainable eating plan that could be worked into a college lifestyle.
Our sessions were broken up by meal, starting with breakfast. Mrs. Orr stressed the importance of going into each meal with a good idea of what should and should not end up on your plate. "Breakfast is literally 'breaking-fast.' After not eating for many hours, it's important to replenish your body's nutrient levels," she explained in one of our first sessions. "Start your day with room temperature water, oatmeal with absolutely no sugar, and fruit." Though they may not be offered in the dining hall, smoothies packed with fruits and veggies are another great way to start your day if you have a small blender and a refrigerator in your apartment or dorm room.
Next, we tackled lunch, which is also an essential meal for nutrient intake. "Without one really big salad a day, there is no health," she explained. "Vegetables lose a lot of vitamins and minerals when they are cooked." Eating a plate full of spinach, kale, bell peppers, sprouts, onions, radishes, and all of the other good stuff you can find at the dining hall salad bar will give you much more energy throughout the day than pizza or sandwiches. "Your body spends a lot of energy on digestion, so by filling your diet with good things, your body does not have to work so hard to derive what it needs from your food."
That doesn't mean that you have to resign yourself to eating a pile of dry greens, though. In fact, it is far better to have a variety of colors on your plate, as the colors of vegetables are indicative of the different properties they possess. Red veggies, for instance, can reduce the risk of heart disease, and green ones can provide protein and vitamins. Your salad should not be constricted to vegetables, though - primarily because that would make for a bland meal, but also because other ingredients have so much to offer. Nuts and chicken, which offer good fats and protein, are excellent and easy additions.
I, like a lot of us, had the tendency to eat big at dinner and small, or not at all, at breakfast and lunch, but Renata emphasized the error in this practice. Dinner should not be a massive undertaking because your body only has a few hours to digest what you put in your stomach before going to sleep. Whole wheat pasta with vegetables and a side of chicken or salad is a well-balanced, nutritious dinner that can be found in any dining hall.
For many college students, myself included, three meals isn't enough, though. Snacks are an essential part of the student diet, and they can be just as important to eating well. Snacking during the day can prevent you from filling up on bad food at meals. I always carry trail mix and apples in my backpack because they can either be found in the dining hall or one of the markets on campus, and they are packed with potassium and good fats, which can keep you feeling energized and good in between mealtimes.
Now as a third year in the College, I have incorporated these practices into my daily routine, and the results are tangible. Not only do I feel better knowing exactly what is going into my body, but I also have more energy and better health. Though it does take some time to make nutrition part of your day-to-day life, I have found that it is a lifeskill worth developing.
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What are your New Year's eating resolutions? How do you eat a balanced diet in the dining halls? Let us know in the comments below!