Student survival guide to healthy eating

Blueberries and raspberries in cartons

When your day is packed with classes, assignments, and studying, not to mention a social life and maybe a job, who has time for healthy eating? While sometimes low on the list of your priorities, being smart about food has many benefits. Eating regularly and choosing healthy portions of nutritious foods means having more mental and physical energy, feeling good about yourself and enjoying better health. Here are the basics…

Breakfast: Don’t leave home without it!

If you have been skipping breakfast because you don’t have time or aren’t hungry, you have been missing the day’s most important meal. While it’s tempting to get an extra ten minutes of sleep, not eating breakfast will cost you in other ways. Studies have shown that breakfast skippers have poorer concentration, more fatigue, less healthy weights, and eat less fibre and other needed nutrients. Eating within an hour of waking up jumpstarts your metabolism and provides the fuel you need to get through a busy morning.  

No time is no excuse: 10 minute breakfast ideas

  • Cold cereal, milk, dried fruit
  • Frozen whole wheat waffles, yogurt
  • Leftover pizza and an apple
  • Whole wheat toast, cheddar cheese, OJ
  • Instant oatmeal with raisins, almonds
  • Whole grain bagel, peanut butter, banana
  • Bran bar, chocolate milk, grapes
  • Yogurt topped with berries and granola
  • Sandwich with lean deli meat and cheese
  • Try a breakfast smoothie: Put fruit, yogurt, and juice or milk in a blender. Add a spoon or two of bran cereal or ground flaxseed for more fibre. If you’re short on time, take it with you!

OK, you’ve eaten breakfast, now what?

Even if you can’t eat at the same time every day, be sure to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner. If there will be more than 4 hours between your meals, plan for a snack. Eating regularly keeps your blood sugar levels stable and prevents you from becoming ravenously hungry and filling up on less healthy foods. Carry backpack snacks for healthy eating on the go.

Backpack food stash ideas

  • Fresh or dried fruit
  • Raw cut-up veggies
  • Whole grain crackers
  • High fibre cereal bars
  • Trail mix or nuts
  • Cheese
  • Yogurt cups
  • Peanut butter sandwich
  • Vegetable or fruit juice
  • Refillable bottle of water

Is late night snacking OK?

If you’re up late studying and feel tired and hungry, a nutritious energy-containing snack can be just what you need to perk you up. Be careful, though… late nights are a tempting time to indulge in cravings for salty, sugar or high fat treats that contain few nutrients. Better choices provide lasting brain fuel, like an apple with whole wheat toast and peanut butter or carrot sticks and whole grain crackers with hummus.

Shocking but true: 1 cup of jujubes contains a whopping 55 teaspoons of sugar.

What makes a good meal or snack?   

Plan your meals around colourful veggies, fruits, and wholesome grains - nutritious energy-containing carbohydrates filled vitamins, minerals, fibre, and phytochemicals which enhance and protect your health. Add protein- and iron-rich foods: lean meat, fish, poultry, eggs, nuts, seeds, tofu and beans. Milk, yogurt, cheese and fortified soy drinks contribute protein and bone-building calcium.

Energizing study snacks

  • Fresh fruit
  • Veggies and low-fat dip
  • Cheese
  • Light popcorn
  • Frozen or canned fruit
  • Individual cans of tuna
  • Hummus
  • Trail mix
  • Baked tortilla chips and salsa
  • Peanut butter
  • Whole grain crackers
  • Cottage cheese
  • Low sugar cereals
  • Yogurt
  • Chocolate milk

Think balance...

Plate containing a balanced mealA balanced diet combines carbohydrates, protein, and a little fat and not only provides you with the nutrients you need to stay healthy but also helps to keep your energy levels up. The term balance also means complementing a less healthy meal or snack with nutritious choices the rest of the day. If you usually eat lots of fruit and veggies, whole grains, and lower fat protein-rich foods and milk products, then why not enjoy a candy bar or a couple of cookies? Go ahead and indulge in your favourite treats – just watch how much and how often!

Include healthy fats

If burgers, fries and deep-fried foods are staples in your diet, choose these foods less often. Eat foods that are grilled, baked, steamed or broiled and use small amounts of heart-healthy fats found in canola, olive and soybean oils, non-hydrogenated margarine, salmon and other fish, peanut butter, nuts, and seeds.

What and how much should you eat?  

Energy needs depend on many factors including your age, body size, whether you’re male or female, and how active you are. Canada’s Food Guide can help you develop a personal healthy eating and physical activity pattern. Get your copy at Health Services or visit Health Canada.

Average energy requirements

Average daily calorie requirements ages 19-30. 
Source: Dietary reference intakes, 2002.

Level of activity

Energy requirements (calories)
Less active female 2000-2200
Active female 2400
Less active male 2400
Active male 3000

What about supplements?

Nothing can replace the benefits of eating a variety of healthy foods. You may choose to take a multivitamin supplement, but don’t take a large dose of any single nutrient without first getting advice from a knowledgeable health professional. Vitamin D is hard to get from food alone and with limited sun exposure. Taking a daily multivitamin will help you get enough of this sunshine vitamin. Women who could become or who are pregnant need a daily multivitamin containing folic acid.

Caution: Use natural or herbal preparations with care as the effects of many of these are unproven and need further research.

What you drink counts, too!

Everyone needs fluids, but drinking too many fancy coffees, a lot of pop or even too much fruit juice can help pack on extra pounds. Alcohol also contains a lot of calories and overindulging may lead to other problems. Water is always a great choice and it’s free! Take a refillable bottle with you and aim for at least 6 cups every day.

More amazing trivia:

  • A 600mL bottle of cola contains 266 calories!
  • A large double-double coffee: 218 calories!
  • A medium (14oz) iced capp: 350 calories!

Healthy eating doesn’t just happen

Old habits are easier to break when you make small, gradual changes. If your diet is low in veggies, start by adding 1 serving each day. If you’ve been skipping meals, rearrange your schedule. If you’re used to eating most meals out, learn how to cook some simple foods for yourself. No cookbooks needed…the internet is a great place to find easy, nutritious ideas (look for light or heart-healthy recipes). If you do dine out, go for healthier meals like wraps, salads (go light on the dressing!), grilled foods and stir fries. Restaurant portions are often enormous, so share a meal with a friend or take the leftovers home and refrigerate for tomorrow’s lunch.

When you keep nutritious foods around, you’re more likely to eat them, so shop for groceries regularly. Take a few minutes to make a shopping list to help save time and money. Changing how you eat takes a bit of effort, but you’re worth it!

More questions on healthy eating?

Call a Registered Dietitian at Health Services: 519-888-4567 x35599

Or at EatRight Ontario: 1-877-510-5102