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Eating right on a campus meal plan — 6 tips to share

Kate Harveston


Starting college doesn't have to mean falling into unhealthy eating habits. Eating well in college is possible — there is more to campus food than pizza!

You can help your student feel their best throughout their college years by teaching them how to eat well and get the most nutritional value from their meal plan.

Share these tips!

1. Choose a plan carefully.

Depending upon the school, there may be several different meal plans to choose from. Your student may pay for a certain number of all-you-care-to-eat meals per term, or receive “dining dollars” to spend on individual items.

Help them select a plan which lets them access the full range of food offerings. (Some fixed plans may save money, but offer fewer healthy choices.) There’s usually a chance early in the fall term when they can adjust their plan if they decide they don’t need as many meals per day or week, or would like to increase their access.

2. Veggies first!

Teach your college student that, when hitting the cafeteria, they should make the salad bar their first stop and fill at least half their plate with fresh fruits and vegetables (and choose vinaigrette, or a sprinkling of oil and vinegar, over higher calorie ranch dressing).

Salad’s not their bag, at least not all the time? Then make the first stop the cooked veggie station. They can look for wok-fried vegetables, or go ahead and put a small touch of melted cheese onto cooked broccoli. Sandwiches and wraps can be stuffed with raw veggies, and breakfast can include veggies, too — request lots of them in any made-to-order omelet, breakfast burrito or scramble.

3. Opt for lean proteins.

When hitting up the grill station, it’s best to stick primarily to lean meats and fish like chicken, turkey and salmon and choose burgers and red meat no more than once or twice per week. Many campus dining halls now offer vegetarian and vegan menus, which tend to include very healthy options.

4. Explore new flavors.

Most colleges offer foods from all over the world to please international students. All students should go ahead and try that tandoori chicken or curry — turmeric is an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory powerhouse.

Brightly colored foods have different nutritional profiles, so eating them helps ensure adequate consumption of the various nutrients everyone needs. Encourage your student to stack their plate with foods in different colors!

5. Stay hydrated.

Often when we feel hungry, we're actually just thirsty, so a good tip to pass on to your student is to carry a water bottle and sip throughout their classes. Explain the science behind this choice; it’s not about denying yourself food when you actually do need it.

6. Build a stash of healthy staple items.

Take a grocery trip with your student during move-in (or any time you visit) to help them learn to make healthier choices when shopping for their own snacks.

If they have a mini fridge in their room, they can store pre-cut and washed veggies and cartons of yogurt. Nuts, seeds and dried fruit offer good crunching along with an energy boost and can be bought in single-serve packages at stores like Trader Joe’s. (Prices are somewhat higher when you buy this way rather than in bulk, but it helps with portion control.) These are also yummy sprinkled on unsweetened instant oatmeal — a heartier quick breakfast than buying a muffin at the coffee shop.

Kate Harveston is a health and lifestyle journalist. Find more of her writing on her blog (So Well, So Woman), in College Parent Magazine by CollegiateParent, and on sites like YourTango, Greatist and Care2.

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