Everyone’s heard of the freshman 15; it’s a common problem worldwide. College students are not the only ones who face the challenges of eating healthy. The percentage of people who are overweight has been increasing over the years, but you can do something about it by keeping yourself healthy.
Throughout the summer, I had an internship in California where I had to cook all my meals, either being a meal made from scratch or a meal I just put in the microwave for the time written on the package. When you compare the two, you get pros and cons of each.
The meal made from scratch is generally healthier as you can pick and choose the ingredients that go into it and avoid unnecessary additives, as well as pick foods with the nutrients you need for the day in each meal. Cooking your own meals from scratch also allows you to better portion out your meals so you don’t overeat. The problem with this approach can be lack of access to cooking materials, lack of time that is required to cook, and lack of cooking skills.
Premade microwave meals are extremely popular among our generation, and not because they are particularly good, but because of the convenience factor that they have. We all say we don’t have the time to cook and just pop a meal in the microwave oven, but these meals are often overloaded with sodium and carbohydrates. Commonly, they lack the protein, fruits, and vegetables that you need to maintain a healthy diet. Additionally, some microwavable meals have portions that are too large for you.
I started really watching what I ate and portion size at the beginning of this semester at RPI when my options became buying each meal pre-made at RPI or in Troy or to cook all my own meals. I decided that I would cook all my own meals as it costs less, results in higher quality food, and is healthier for me. Most of the tips originated from or were referenced by information that my girlfriend, who majors in public and community health, provided to me. In order to maintain a healthy diet, I go shopping weekly with a pre-written shopping list to minimize my time in the store. My normal shopping trip includes purchases of a large variety of fruits and vegetables, as well as a source of protein, which can be meats, fish, beans, nuts, and dairy. When I cook food, I try to cook excess amounts of what I will eat and store it in Tupperware for future meals. This saves me time cooking and allows me to make a quick meal when I don’t have the time to cook a meal from scratch. Each meal should contain at least one serving of vegetables, and at the end, grab a piece of fruit to top off the meal. On top of eating the right foods, I make sure to use smaller plates so that when I fill the plate with food, it actually contains a serving of the food I have prepared.
For those who lack access to a car or those who live on campus and are stuck with meal plans, there are things you can do within the dining hall to keep yourself eating a healthy diet. In the dining halls at RPI there are plaques at all the dining stations that display the nutritional information of each entreé per serving. When selecting food, make sure that you’re not overfilling your plate with food. You can do this by looking at the serving sizes on each entreé and looking at the nutritional information. (When you are done getting your food, make sure that it looks colorful, as it is important to have a variety of colors in your meals each day.) In addition, you don’t have to take a dinner plate. If you take one of the smaller plates or a bowl, you’ll end up with a correct portion of food and will feel satisfied that you ate everything in front of you. If you find yourself taking more than one plate, you are probably taking too much food. The dining halls have bunches of fruit which you can take. I encourage you to take one and eat it after eating your entreé, or take it for later and have it as a snack in class.
Here’s some general advice that will be helpful to remember. If you find yourself still hungry after eating all the food you have already eaten during a meal, rather than eating more food, take a few minutes to let your stomach digest to make sure you’re not really just bored. When dealing with snacks, it’s a good idea to take all the snacks you have and portion out each one into its own ziploc bag so you don’t find yourself eating through an entire family sized bag of snack food. For those unhealthier snacks that you own—you know the ones I am talking about—store them in the back of the shelf or somewhere where you can’t constantly see them, so you are not tempted to finish them off. Lastly, invest in a measuring cup for portioning out those snacks, they only cost a dollar from a dollar store…I hope you can figure that out. It will save you lots of grief.
A good way to ensure that you’re eating healthy is to keep a food journal and to count your daily calorie intake. There are a few mobile apps which are designed for this exact purpose. They make it really easy to log the food you eat with intuitive interfaces and even a barcode scanner for prepackaged foods! MyFitnessPal is an application for all the smartphones out there as well as for your personal computer. It even has a database of Sodexo’s foods and nutritional information so you can log Sodexo meals right after you eat them. Another one is an app called Lose It! which is for Android, iPhone, and your desktop. I prefer the user interface of the Lose It! app and have found it easy to use. It also features a barcode scanner, contains a vast food database as well, and even lets you create your own foods for when an item you ate is not listed. One downside to the app over MyFitnessPal for the students at RPI, is that it does not include Sodexo’s food. As long as you are logging the food you are eating to keep you aware of your nutrition, the tool you use does not matter.
I hope these tips find their way into your daily routine as they will keep you healthy and feeling good. Also, remember that a little bit of exercise on top of a good diet never hurts.