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Healthy eating for students


WebMD Medical Reference
Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks

The old saying, “Out of sight, out of mind,” couldn’t be less true of parents who are sending their children off to university or college. 

It’s true that, loosed from the constraints of family life, some students are apt to fling themselves into a completely different lifestyle with unchecked hedonism. Cheap booze, fast food, late nights and lie-ins are just some of the less-than-healthy aspects associated with student culture. It’s no surprise to learn that student advice sites talk of the “Fresher’s 15” - meaning the 15lbs the average first-year student is apparently likely to pile on during their first year at uni.

Even if that figure is an exaggeration, student lifestyle can lead to unhealthy habits, associated with alcohol, convenience foods and takeaways. 

In some cases, students don’t have the basic shopping, cooking and budgeting skills to organise a healthy routine.

So what of those students who are keen to adopt a healthy lifestyle? It’s by no means easy, as student budgets are squeezed ever tighter. In addition, student cooking facilities aren’t exactly cordon bleu, with little cupboard, fridge or freezer space.

So how can you establish healthy habits early on?

20 top tips

Here are our top 20 tips to help the transition to student living go as smoothly - and as healthily - as possible: 

  • Try to improve your knowledge about cooking before you leave home and grasp the basics of shopping on a budget. Try taking charge of the weekly shop or prepare a healthy family meal once a week.
  • Healthy eating may not sound that exciting, but a sensible diet can help you live life to the full. If you are staying up late studying or partying, diet is an important part of keeping strong and healthy.
  • Try to get your five portions a day of fruit and vegetables. These can be in tins, frozen or dried, but seasonal fresh fruit and veg may be better value.
  • Establish an eating routine. Start your day the healthy way - by eating breakfast. Try to stick to wholemeal toast or a wholegrain breakfast cereal or porridge. That will support your energy levels and concentration.
  • Making your own packed lunch every day is likely to be cheaper than grabbing something between lectures. You can freeze a loaf of sliced bread and remove the slices you need each day to defrost.
  • Base your main meals around simple things like casseroles, soups and stews, plus basics, like pasta, lentils and rice.
  • Have meals on wholemeal toast. Three heaped tablespoons of baked beans count as one of your five a day. Consider scrambled eggs, as eggs are an excellent source of iron and lean protein, or tinned tomatoes or sardines on toast.
  • Other cheap, healthy and easy main meal options include omelettes, and cupboard standbys such as tinned salmon or sardines.
  • Watch out for cheese - and the calories it contains. Not every meal needs grated cheese.
  • Try to plan your meals and make a list of what you need to buy. Shop once a week, rather than every day, and stock up on cupboard essentials to avoid the need for takeaways.
  • Shop around. Don’t necessarily do all your shopping at the nearest corner shop. Try a local market as well as bigger supermarkets.
  • Try not to overcomplicate your meals. Just because your recipe specifies certain fresh herbs and spices, doesn’t mean you need to buy them all. You can create tasty food with a few basics, like chilli powder and dried mixed herbs.
  • Freeze leftovers in a freezer bag.
  • Keep your kitchenware clean and - if possible - separate from your housemates’ pots and pans. That way, you won’t have to retrieve your saucepan from the bottom of a pile of dirty dishes in the sink. Consider a washing-up rota with your housemates.
  • Stagger mealtimes to avoid everyone trying to cook at the same time. The main meal doesn’t have to be in the evening.
  • Always make sure you wash your hands before you prepare your food. Separate raw and cooked meats in your fridge. If you’re defrosting meat or fish, do it in the fridge and not on the worktop.Make sure the fridge temperature is below 5C. Check for food that’s past its sell-by date.
  • Be aware of the calorie count in alcohol. One pint of lager is around 250 calories - the equivalent of a burger. One 175ml glass of wine is 130 calories - the equivalent of a slice of cake. Men should not regularly drink more than three to four units of alcohol a day and women should not regularly drink more than two to three units of alcohol a day.
  • Drink plenty of fluids to keep you properly hydrated - around six to eight glasses a day of non- alcoholic fluid. Carry a bottle with you to lectures to help keep you refreshed when you’re on the go. If you’re planning a night out, drink responsibly and alternate alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks.
  • During times of great stress, it’s easy to let your healthy eating habits slip. The pressure of revision can make cooking feel like a chore you don’t need. But, in fact, a healthy diet and regular exercise can give you the energy you need to focus on your studies, as well as giving you an important break from the books.

Finally, don’t forget to have fun. A few culinary skills can help you to find a lot of friends during your student days.

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Reviewed on December 30, 2013

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