Dorm rooms across the country are filled with teetering stacks of ramen noodles, shiny packs of toaster pastries and other conveniently packaged — and conveniently cheap — foods. These not-so-nutritious choices can seem like the only ones on a college student budget, but they can come at a great cost to your health and waistline. According to a University of Vermont study, students weighed an average of 10 pounds more at the end of their senior year than they did at the beginning of their freshman year. Despite a lack of a kitchen and a puny budget, it is possible for college students to eat healthy—and avoid the dreaded “freshman 15.” With some planning, some cunning and the easy college dining hacks below, undergrads can keep their bodies and minds healthier all semester long.
COLLEGE DINING HACK #1: STOCK THE MINI-FRIDGE FREEZER
It’s easy to fill that tiny mini-fridge freezer with pints of ice cream and microwaveable pizza rolls. But for less money and fewer calories, you can fill it with steam-in-the-bag veggies and grilled chicken. You can find a variety of vegetables, from edamame to broccoli, that come in single-serving containers. You can even get healthy, pre-cooked and frozen meats; just stay away from fried and breaded dishes like chicken nuggets.
COLLEGE DINING HACK #2: PACK SNACKS
Pretend like you are your own mom and pack some healthy snacks for class. Though grab-and-go fast food options between classes are tempting, they are rarely healthy and often cost more than you need to spend.
Instead, fight off hunger when you have back-to-back classes with cheap and healthy snacks like mixed nuts, trail mix, an apple or even just peanut butter and whole-grain crackers. For the cost of one chicken sandwich and fries, you can get half a dozen apples and a large jar of peanut butter. With your stomach appeased, you can focus on class and make healthier choices at the dining hall later.
COLLEGE DINING HACK #3: EAT PLENTY OF PROTEIN
Protein takes longer to digest than carbohydrates, helping you feel full longer. Certain sources of protein also cost less than a dollar per serving. A dozen eggs costs less than $2, giving you a week’s worth of protein-packed breakfast options. Other inexpensive protein includes:
- Chicken thighs or legs
- Canned tuna
- Cottage cheese
- Greek yogurt
- Black beans
- Peanut butter
COLLEGE DINING HACK #4: MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR DINING HALL SWIPES
If you have a meal plan, make the most of your trips to the dining hall by choosing healthy options. You may not be able to keep a lot of healthy foods in your dorm, so try to eat fresh foods when they’re available. At each meal, fill half your plate with vegetables. If your dining hall allows you to have take away items, choose an orange or a banana instead of ice cream or cookies.
COLLEGE DINING HACK #5: BRING YOUR WATER BOTTLE
Take your reusable water bottle with you to every class and event. Water is free, keeps you hydrated and adds no extra calories to your day. Water can also help you feel more full between meals so you aren’t so hungry that you make bad choices once you finally get some food.
COLLEGE DINING HACK#6: MAKE YOUR RAMEN HEALTHIER
If you just have to have your ramen noodles, avoid using the sodium-filled flavor packet. Instead, add sriracha or other spices for flavor. You can also add chicken, eggs or stir-fry vegetables to get more nutrition out of your ramen and stay fuller longer.
COLLEGE DINING HACK #7: STEER CLEAR OF COFFEE SHOPS
Many colleges allow you to have coffeemakers in your dorm room. Save tons of money each morning by making your own coffee instead of dropping money on a sugary creation from the campus coffee shop. You’ll still have some pick-me-up for those dreaded 8 a.m. classes, but you’ll have spent less than a dollar on your morning buzz.