We’ve all been there. We move out of our parents’ houses where a hot, fresh, healthy meal could be made for us nightly. And now we’re in all new territory, navigating the college landscape without much money on hand to sustain those healthy meal choices. The “Freshman 15” (more like the “Freshman 7.5,” according to a study that measured average weight gain for first-year college students) is looming, and every day you try to avoid the scale and the mirror.
Transitioning into the college environment can be stressful, especially trying to establish dietary independence in a world full of options. Consuming unhealthy options like excessive amounts of calories and foods with added sugars, solid fats, and alcohol lead to malnutrition and a higher risk of developing cardiometabolic disorders later in life.
Barriers to healthy eating include limited affordability, accessibility, adequacy, subjective norms, and personal decision-making processes. Too often, when comparing prices between a burger and a salad, a burger is usually always cheaper. The sad reality is that the less nutritious options are usually cheaper because mass production is simpler when included ingredients do not rely on farming and production.
The accessibility of food on a college campus is another barrier because students often find food outlets at the most convenient locations, whether that be the dining halls, or the McDonald’s just down the street offering a tantalizing “Dollar Menu.” Trekking to off-campus grocery stores and restaurants is not conducive to the college lifestyle and budget.
Feelings of adequacy refer to the reliance on meal plans offered by universities, assuming the campus menus will offer nutritious foods. Alas, 95% of college students fail to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables. Thus, why the Partnership for Healthier America (PHA) created the Healthier Campus Initiative, which strives to bring healthier menu options to all university dining halls and vending machines.
Subjective norms refer to the immersion in a new social environment that occurs in college, which influences how students are choosing foods. If you have a roommate who never says no to a pizza, you will likely stop saying no to a pizza. And personal decision-making processes describes how students feel when deciding among food options, saving money, and academic demands. During finals week, attempting to eat healthier foods is the last thing anyone is thinking of.
Well, I’m here to provide you with the resources to make healthier choices, bringing the wellness belief to the forefront of your minds. If you or anyone on campus is struggling to make ends meet, the Big Blue Pantry runs entirely off of donations to confidentially provide these students with non-perishable items including oatmeal, breakfast bars, popcorn, Wheat Thins, canned tuna, various soups, and vegetables, just to name a few of the healthier options. Perishable items are soon to arrive to the Big Blue Pantry and healthier choices can be found for those unable to afford to eat in the dining hall or in restaurants.
Millikin’s Dining Hall provides healthy alternatives to many foods, and even vegetarian options. And while campus dining is currently a grab-and-go method, there is less chance of an all-you-can-eat mentality, so pandemics are even contributing to weight loss!
Healthy options that can sustain the working college student through a day of Zoom meetings and be stored in the dormitory room include oatmeal, cheese sticks, yogurt, hummus, hardboiled eggs, nuts, apples, protein bars, popcorn, tuna, and trail mix.
When navigating the Dining Hall, be sure to go for the lean proteins like grilled chicken and beef burgers (sans bun), always add a vegetable to your plate, avoid fried and breaded foods, and avoid sugary drinks like soda and juice from the drink dispensers. And when the dining halls reopen, do not linger, use them only to eat so you reduce the mentality for extra food. Overall, being more conscientious about your nutritional decisions will prevent that “Freshman 15,” and hopefully contribute to a healthier, happier, hardworking version of yourself.