Eating Healthy in College & Surviving the Freshman 15

by Allison Tannenbaum MS, RD

There is so much talk about the “freshman 15”, but these days, many students are interested in eating healthy in college. They are nutrition-savvy and health-conscious. However, this may be offset by the fact that they are off to school and for the first time have the freedom to pick and chose their meals and snacks. It is like letting a kid loose in a candy store.

These days, many students have sophisticated palettes that are challenging campus food service to step up their game. While the standard grill items will always be available, this has ultimately led to a much wider choice of new and exciting foods being offered in many college dining halls.

Here are some survival tips to make it through freshman year minus the 15 extra pounds…

  • USE SOCIAL MEDIA to make decisions about your meals for the day. Check out your school’s dining hall web site or Facebook page to see available menu items, ingredients and nutrition information to plan out your meals. Some colleges have ethnic themed dining halls that vary throughout campus. I LOVE the idea of the Mediterranean dining hall at University of Michigan’s West Quad.
  • Pay attention to FOOD DESCRIPTORS and NUTRITION INFORMATION which should be posted in the cafeteria along side of the food. If it is not there – ASK for it!
  • BALANCE is an important strategy for healthy eating and weight control, so if you eat a cheeseburger and fries for lunch, opt for the healthier more simply prepared meal for dinner.
  • Remember to EXERCISE! It’s an important part of energy balance and living a healthy lifestyle.
  • Consider THE SALAD BAR AS A MEAL: Pile your plate high with non starchy vegetables (think green, red, yellow and orange). Add 3-4 ounces of lean protein (grilled chicken and fish, turkey breast, tuna fish without mayo, hummus, lentils or a hard boiled egg). Limit cheese, nuts, seeds, croutons, bacon, dried fruit and crispy noodles. A good rule of thumb is no more than about 2 Tablespoons in total of the above food items. Calories from salad dressing can also add up quickly, so no more than 2 Tablespoons per salad. To enhance your dressing without added calorie, consider adding zero calorie vinegar OR lemon juice.
  • Get familiar with portion sizes (this visual guide will help).
  • KEEP HEALTHY SNACKS in your dorm room and stay clear of late night pizza parties.

Does your meal tray look like this?

Healthy College Food Tray
Bowl of grapes and strawberry, Hard-boiled egg, Bowl of hummus, Plate of broccoli, carrots, tofu and, mushrooms, Banana, and Apples

It can, and I know the college student who put this together! This may be an extreme for some, but varying your food choices and balancing calories from meal to meal or day to day will help keep you in energy balance.

Send us a picture of you next meal!

Allison Tannenbaum MS, RD is the blogger behind Nutrition4Life  a blog about food, nutrition and healthy living. You can also follow Allison on Twitter as @Nutrition4Lifee.