By Caroline Shannon-Karasik
Ask around and the average person will tell you one of the best parts of college can be chalked up to a single word: Freedom. While it is certainly liberating to be able to choose your own bedtime and explore new interests, adjusting to a college lifestyle can take an unhealthy toll on your diet.
Fat-laden cafeteria food, late night pizza orders and all-day snacking become the new normal, leading to weight gain and the all-too-common reference of the dreaded "freshman 15."
Still, college eats don't have to turn your healthy eating ways into a distant memory. In fact, by swapping sugar- and calorie-loaded snacks for healthier options, your new food freedom can lead to the implementation of healthy habits that will last beyond your college years.
Brandon Kolar, nutrition-certified Equinox trainer at Boston-based Equinox Fitness Clubs said one trick he used while in college was making an extra turkey sandwich in the dining hall. Kolar would prepare the sandwich, then store it in his room for a snack between classes.
"I'd make it on whole grain bread and load it with lettuce and tomato to increase the nutrient value," he said.
Having a healthy eating game plan is definitely crucial to keeping snack attacks at bay. Kolar said quick and easy food staples, like a jar of peanut or almond butter, apples, baby carrots, hummus, whole wheat pita, almonds, raisins, yogurt and plain popcorn are all healthful foods that can easily be stored in a mini refrigerator for healthy snack options.
"Those are all quick and simple, things I did, and healthful choices I would recommend today if counseling a college age person," Kolar said.
Check out these popular college food favorites and their healthier alternatives for snacking scenarios that will leave you feeling prepped to take on all-night study sessions and ultra-tough exams.
The Popular Choice: Pizza
The Healthier Option: DIY Pizzas
Pizza, pizza, pizza. If there's one snack that college students love to order up, it's the warm, oven baked, melted cheese flavors of this Italian favorite. But seeing as how the average slice of a 12-inch cheese pizza will cost you about 200 calories, it's easy to see how regular orders of pizza pies might pack on the pounds. (And who really stops at one slice?) Squash pizza cravings by topping a whole grain English muffin or slice of flatbread with pasta sauce, shredded cheese and veggies, then warm it in a toaster oven or microwave.
The Popular Choice: Mac 'n' Cheese
The Healthier Option: A Slimmed-Down Cheesy Pasta
It might taste yummy, but it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that a food that could potentially glow in the dark is probably not a very healthy option. Swap your microwaveable packets of neon-colored macaroni and cheese for this more natural version of the dorm favorite. Score the ingredients by picking up macaroni pasta the next time you're at the store, and then then head to the cafeteria for shredded cheese from the salad bar and milk from the cereal station. Mix in a bowl, pop it in the microwave and you have dinner!
The Popular Choice: Ramen Noodles
The Healthier Option: Nutrition-Packed Ramen Noodles
What college experience would be complete without a closet stash of ramen noodles? They're not only tasty and easy to make, but ramen noodles are also simple to stash in a dorm room –– no refrigeration required. However, pick up a pack of ramen noodles and you will also notice that it actually contains two 195-calorie servings, not to mention the popular dish is loaded with sodium. Whip up a healthier version of the college favorite by halving the contents of the package (noodles and flavor packet). Prepare the noodles, then hit up the cafeteria for mix-ins, like grilled chicken slices, vegetables, cooked fish and feta cheese. Stir in the additions and eat up.
What's the bottom line? Choose to make the freshman 15 another one of those silly college urban legends by making healthier food options when snacking with friends or during an especially long lecture. And remember: It's OK to indulge every now and then. Just learn to treat your freedom to a fresh salad or brisk walk on campus, too.
- Swap calorie-loaded takeout foods for DIY versions.
- Keep on-the-go healthy snacks, like almonds, yogurt, apples and peanut butter on hand.
- Make the most of your dining hall by finding the most nutrient- and protein-rich foods to save for later.