Sep. 27. 2013
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped® and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

Hey guys! Today, I want to speak specifically to the college students out there by sharing 12 tips to stay healthy in college aka my College Nutrition Survival Guide. I’ve included my personal healthy eating

tips and tricks on how to stay healthy in college and on track towards feeling amazing. I know how challenging it can be, but staying healthy can also be simple, manageable, and doable if you prioritize your health and wellness during this time in your life. Not only will you develop new habits during your college years, but if you can form a solid foundation in college you’ll build a healthy lifestyle for life!

How to stay healthy in college…

Not only is eating healthy and staying active important while in college, but it’s also important to maintain your mental, emotional, and social health as well! In college, many students struggle with depression and let’s face it, college is a lot of change you may be going through all at once. You’ve moved away from home, you’re in a new environment, you’re living with people you may or may not know very well, meals aren’t cooked for you, plus you’re studying hard and going to classes all while trying to balance your personal and social life. Trust me, it’s challenging at times, but if I can make it through successfully, you can, too!

You may be in college right now, about to go to college, or you may be a loved one/parent of a soon-to-be college student. Keep this guide on hand to help you and your loved one navigate college life in a healthy way!

01 Learn how to navigate dining halls

Know where your dining halls are located on campus. Keep a map with you so you can always find lots of options when it’s meal time. Research what is offered with your dining hall meal plans. Many colleges have websites with nutritional information now, so do your homework! Lastly, call/communicate with the dining halls to inquire if they have specific dietary preferences to meet your needs (vegetarian, gluten free, lower calorie, etc.).

Hit the salad bar! Use moderation with the higher calorie toppings such as cheese, croutons, dressings, etc. Load up on the salad greens, fresh fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats! Read more about building a healthy bowl meal/salad here.

02 Learn how to grocery shop

Find your local grocery store and stock up week by week on healthy staples that you can cook or prepare ahead of time for your busy week ahead. Make a list ahead of time! If you head to the grocery without a plan, chances are you’ll get back home with a ton of snacks and think, “what did I even get?!” Write down a list and try to stick to it! For more grocery tips, get the Back to Basics Bundle or take it a step further with ready made lists and meal plans to last you all year in the NS Society.

03 Be prepared

Keep snacks, meals, and water with you at all times just in case your class or study schedule changes.This will keep you prepared and less likely to reach out for fast food when you’re in a bind. A refillable water bottle will be your best friend to stay hydrated and energized on a busy day on campus. My go-to packaged snack is RX BARS.

04 Make a meal plan

Plan ahead with your grocery lists for the week. Manage and space out your meal plan “points” if your school operates on those for dining halls. Take advantage of freebies, coupons, and leftovers from family visits. Try out batch cooking to save even more time.

05 Stock a dorm room kitchen

Organize your dorm room so you keep your food items in one area. Below is a list of my trusty tools to turn a dorm room into a functional kitchen:
1. Pantry Goods | Use large tote or tupperware bins to store “pantry” and dry good items (crackers, oatmeal, quinoa, peanut butter/nut butters, canned chicken/tuna/salmon, trail mix, snack bars, etc.)
2. Fruit Basket |Use a large bin or basket filled with fresh fruit from the dining halls.
3. Toaster oven | perfect for toasting, baking, and reheating.
4. Mini-fridge | keep the necessities on a weekly basis such as a type of milk, your smoothies (wink, wink), vegetables, and any leftovers you may have!
5. Travel size blender | perfect for easy cleaning in the community kitchen sink to make all your smoothies!
6. Microwave | make things from mug cakes, oatmeal, reheating food, scrambled eggs, quinoa, and more just in the microwave.
7. Utensils | keep paper plates, napkins, paper towels, wipes, tupperware, disposable or these reusable eating utensils, tea mug, travel mugs, and plastic bowls and cups.

8. Hot plate | If your dorm allows it, a hot plate can be a game changer. You can scramble eggs, make a stir fry, or even whip up pancakes.

06 Use kitchen access

Many dorm buildings will have a community kitchen on one of the floors. Make cooking a social event with your roommate or other friends and maybe even enlist a crew to help you batch cook!

07 Keep it simple

Below are my guidelines for keeping things simple when meal planning for the week. The key is to keep recipes simple when cooking in your dorm.
1. Make smoothies that contain fresh fruit + handfuls of spinach + milk of choice ( I use almond) + nut butter and/or a protein powder.
2. Plain oatmeal + fresh fruit/dried fruit/nuts and seeds
3. Yogurt + nuts/seeds + fruit
4. Wraps with nut butter + banana + dash of cinnamon
5. Wraps with proteins + lettuce + tomatoes. Check here for my batch cooking ideas. You can easily make batches of your staple items in your community kitchen!

08 Stay on track

Use free online food diaries or a journal like My Fitness Pal to track your habits. It’s also helpful to gather a group of friends who have similar healthy lifestyles and wellness goals as you. Think about joining a weekly health-related classes (nutrition, sports, cooking, etc.). Many schools have a student wellness center or rec that offers lots of classes and support. You an also sign up for co-ed sports teams for fun.

09 The 80/20 Rule

Aim for having 80% of your diet be from whole real food sources with minimal processing and the remaining 20% from processed foods or less healthy foods/treats. This is a great way to learn balance and flexibility without be too rigid about your eating habits. Enjoy!

10 Eat raw when possible

Choose raw fruits and vegetables as much as possible as the majority of your easy to access options may be highly cooked produce. Raw produce is typically higher in nutrients, vitamins, water, and fiber. Favorites are carrots, celery, berries, tomatoes, peppers, snap peas, etc.

11 Seek out Wellness Advisors

Wellness Advisors are great resources to not only keep you physically healthy but also mentally, emotionally, socially healthy. Reach out to them for positive information on body image and eating disorder information (which can be prevalent in college communities). Colleges are committed to keeping their students healthy, so take advantage of the help they offer!

12 Be patient

Remember you can make it work for the first 1 or 2 years in tight quarters and then most likely you’ll have your own place. By then you’ll be a small space cooking pro 😉

Remember: You have the choice, there will always be something that is a “better” choice. Don’t let the excuse of “my campus has no food”  let that deter you away from sticking to your goals and keeping your mind, body, and spirit healthy.

Still need support?

If you’re interested in having more accountability and direction, meal plans, grocery lists, etc., please contact me for a nutrition consultation (ask about student discounts!)  I hope this guide is helpful to most of you out there, be sure to check the K-12 edition I shared a couple weeks ago here.

Live well,

xx McKel