7 Healthy Eating Tips for College Students

Eating a Healthy Diet

College woman eating at a table.
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As a college student, you need to eat right to fuel your body for a very busy time in your life – from class time to study time and work time (and even some play time).

You may feel like you don’t have time to eat right. Or maybe you’re not quite sure what it means to eat right. So let’s start with that:

Eating a healthy diet means you’re getting the correct balance of proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, in the form of foods that are good for you. That means you need two or more cups of vegetables every day, about a cup of fruit, a few servings of whole grains and two or three good servings of protein.

The most common mistakes are not eating enough fruits and vegetables or high-fiber foods and eating too much fried food, junk foods and sugary snacks and sodas.

If you’re feeling confused about how a healthy diet works, start with these articles:

Then when you’re ready, flip through this slideshow for tips on how to eat healthier as a college student.

Add One Piece of Fruit or Serving of Colorful Vegetable to Every Meal

College students choosing healthy foods.
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Most people don’t get enough fruits and vegetables. That's sad because not only are they good for your health, fruits and vegetables are delicious.  So my first tip is to add fruit or a veggie to every single meal that you can. It’s easy – you just need to pay attention to what you’re doing.

In fact, you can do this almost everywhere you eat. At breakfast, you can add sliced fruit, raisins or fresh berries to a bowl of cereal or oatmeal. Or drink a glass of orange or grapefruit juice.

At lunch, choose green beans to go with your sandwich or grab some crunchy raw carrots. End your meal with an apple or banana instead of ice cream.

Dinner works the same way. And even if you’re out for pizza with friends you can play along. Order a side salad to go with your pizza or at least order veggies as toppings instead of greasy meats.

Aim for 2 to 3 cups of veggies and a serving or two of fruit every day.

Work In Some Extra Calcium Sources

College women drinking milk.
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Calcium is essential for all kinds of things – blood clotting, muscle and nerve function, healthy teeth and strong bones. In fact, you’re building up bone mass until you reach about 30 years of age – then it gets tougher to add calcium to bone. So take advantage of this time and get plenty of calcium every day.

Milk and dairy products are well-known calcium sources. Think Greek yogurt with fresh berries, nuts and honey, or drink a glass of milk with your meals. Cheese is an excellent source of calcium too – but watch the calories. One serving of cheese is only about an ounce or two. That’s about the size of two dice.

If milk’s not your thing, there are still plenty of calcium sources available. Dark leafy green vegetables, nuts and seeds, and cow’s milk alternatives like soy milk, rice milk or almond milk will provide you with plenty of calcium.

You need about three servings of calcium-rich foods every day. If you feel like you’re not getting enough, you can take a dietary supplement.  You might want to take a vitamin D supplement as well, especially during the winter months.

Drink More Water

College man drinking water.
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Your body needs water, and you’re not going to feel so good if you get dehydrated. Plus, water has zero calories, so it’s a good beverage if you need to watch your weight. I know water can get a bit boring, so add flavor with sliced fruit or cucumber.

Does it matter where your water comes from? Probably not – tap water should be perfectly fine, but depending on how it’s treated you might not like the flavor. You can buy bottled water or use a water filter pitcher.

Sparkling water is fine too – but be careful when you choose flavored varieties.  Some just contain a little adding fruit flavoring, but some flavored sparkling waters are basically sugary soft drinks, so read the labels carefully.

Use Your Smart Phone

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There are some seriously awesome nutrition apps that you can download to your smartphone. Some apps count your calories and some offer tips, advice, and recipes. Using an app might keep you motivated, and it’s easier to use than a pen and paper food diary.

At least I think so – there’s not a lot of research on how effective apps and the use of social networks truly are, but I believe that it looks promising.

My favorite app is the Calorie Count app. It does much more than keep track of the calories you consume, it also tallies the individual nutrients and gives you a nutrition grade at the end of every day.  Learn more at Calorie Count.

Fooducate is another wonderful app that you can take shopping with you. Scan the barcode on any package and the app will tell you if it’s a good choice or not.

For more info on apps, go to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics App Review Page.

Try New Things at the Dining Hall

Eat right at the college dining hall.
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College dining halls are both a blessing and a curse because there’s so much food to choose from. You can try something new almost every day, or you can take the comfortable route and pick the stuff you love every day. 

This tip is probably most helpful for those of you who are picky eaters.  Be adventuresome in the dining hall. Try all those new foods even if you’re sure you’ll hate them. Over time, you’ll learn to like foods you were sure you hated before. And that’s good because it’s easier to eat a healthy balanced diet if you eat a variety of foods.

So, here’s what you do. Start with your usual menu selections and add a tiny bit of something you haven’t eaten before – just enough for a bite or two.  Like red peppers or olives or something. Then eat that bite or two.

Do it again the next day and again after that. Actually, you might need to try a new food at least ten times before you start to like it. 

Safe and Healthy Dorm Room Snacks

College woman eating popcorn.
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It’s nice to have something to snack on when you’re back in your dorm or your little apartment, and it can be a good way to get more nutrition. That is as long as you choose snacks that are good for you. Of course, you may need to consider your space. If your dorm fridge is full (or if you don’t have one) then you’ll need to stock up on handy snacks that keep at room temperature.

You may be tempted to buy candy, cups of ramen noodles, bags of chips, and things that can sit on your shelf for a long time. The problem is that many of these snacks aren’t good for you – they’re high in excess fats, added sugars and calories. And not all that nutritious.

Try these snacks instead:

Nuts and seeds will keep at room temperature for a few days after you open the container.

Rice cakes keep well and are low in calories. Try some flavored rice cakes or add a little nut butter, which also keeps well at room temperature.

Dried fruits like raisins, craisins, dried apricots and other dehydrated fruits can be kept at room temperature. They lose some nutritional value compared to their fresh counterparts – but they won’t go bad and attract fruit flies.

Popcorn is a whole grain snack. Air-popped is best, but regular popcorn is good too (hold the extra butter).

And on that note, you can keep some fresh fruit around as long as the skins or peels are intact – bananas, apples, oranges and pears can all be kept at room temperature for a few days. But eat them up before they go bad.

Start a Roommate Dinner Club

Young adults eating dinner.
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Here’s my favorite tip for college kids who live off campus and it's especially good if you miss those home-cooked meals and family dinners.  Start a dinner club with your roommates or friends. Choose one or two nights a week for a shared family-style meal. Decide who will bring or prepare the dishes for each meal.

The neat thing is there’s room for your friends who love to cook – they can share their cooking skills with the group – and there’s room for friends who don’t know the first thing about making a meal -- they can learn from the others. 

Start with something easy like roast chicken, mashed potatoes and a couple of side dishes.

Don’t forget about the clean up – that needs to be shared too. And there’s the expense – sit down and take a bit of time to plan the meal, so it fits everyone’s budget.  As time goes on, your group might want to try more complicated meals and maybe even invite your parents.  

Or maybe not. 

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