Eating nutritious, healthy meals on a regular basis is an important foundation for your self-care routine. Sometimes eating well can seem like a complicated process or a chore. But it doesn’t have to be. Read the Resources on this page for moreinformation about eating well.
After a long night’s sleep, your body needs to be fueled up by a nutritious breakfast to help you get through the day ahead. Getting a healthy breakfast in can help you focus better, give you energy, and help you feel less tired as you are getting going in the morning.
Here are five breakfast ideas that are easy and quick to make:
- Quick cooking oatmeal with raisins, walnuts and milk or soy milk (can be cooked in the microwave)
- Whole wheat English muffin with an egg and cheese or avocado, orange juice
- Whole grain bagel with peanut or almond butter and a banana
- Greek yogurt, frozen berries and granola or other whole grain cereal
- Breakfast smoothie (blend equal parts frozen or fresh fruit, yogurt, and milk with a spoon or two of ground flaxseed)
Once you’ve given yourself a head start with breakfast, make sure you keep your body and mind well fueled throughout the day with small, healthy snacks between meals. If there will be more than four hours between your meals, make sure you find time for a snack in the middle.
Lots of snacks can fit in your backpack including:
- Fresh fruit
- Veggies and low-fat dip
- Light popcorn
- Frozen or canned fruit
- Peanut butter and whole grain crackers
- Low sugar cereals
- Trail mix with an orange
- Baby carrots and hummus
- Sliced apple with almond butter
- Cottage cheese with fresh fruit
- Instant oatmeal with milk and raisins
- Yogurt with berries and granola
- Whole grain crackers and tuna
- Banana and peanut butter in whole wheat tortilla
- Tortilla chips, salsa, and low fat shredded cheese
- Whole grain cereal bar and a cheese stick
- Avoid quick, sugary fixes.
When your energy slumps a common reaction is to grab a quick treat like candies or cookies, but while this quick burst of energy provides some immediate relief it can often be followed by an even worse energy slump. This can lead to a repetitive cycle of quick energy boost followed by a crash, which can leave you feeling even more tired than you were before.
- Caffeinate in moderation.
Another common response to a drop in energy levels is to reach for coffee, energy drinks, or other caffeinated beverages. Be sure to watch your caffeine intake because high levels of caffeine can lead to feelings of anxiety and increase your body’s stress response with symptoms like increased heart rate. Keep a water bottle with you at all times and drink water regularly.
- Comfort food as a treat, not a norm.
When we’re stressed we often use food as a reward or a comfort after a long day. But when we’re stressed we’re most likely to choose foods low in nutrients and high in sugar, salt, and fat. If you do choose to splurge on something less than healthy, make sure to balance it out in the rest of the day with balanced, healthy choices. For more information about what makes up a balanced diet, see Canada’s Food Guide.
- Keep a regular, balanced diet.
Make sure to keep eating three meals a day and snacking as necessary, even if you are really busy with studying or an assignment deadline. Focus on meals that contain vegetables and fruit, whole grains and protein. Keep healthy foods in the house for meals and snacks to resist the urge to go out for something unhealthy. Always start the day with breakfast and eat a moderate sized meal or snack every three to four hours after.
- Find other, healthy ways to boost your energy levels.
Being active and participating in exercise can actually increase your energy levels and reduce stress. Getting seven to eight hours of sleep at night will also help you to have more energy and can help to decrease food cravings. For information about ways to get active on campus, see the Athletics website. For information about optimal sleep health, view our Sleeping Well video.
Change doesn’t happen overnight. If these basics seem daunting to you, start by making changes slowly. If your diet is low in vegetables, start by adding one serving each day. If you are used to eating most meals out, learn how to cook some simple foods for yourself. If you don’t have healthy snacks on hand, take a few minutes to make a shopping list and stock up at the beginning of the week.
Brown lean ground beef, chicken or turkey in frying pan. Add packaged taco seasoning and cook well. Spoon meat into tortilla or taco shell. Add chopped lettuce, tomato, onion and green/red pepper, shredded cheese and salsa. For vegetarian version, substitute drained, rinsed canned black or pinto beans, rehydrated texturized vegetable protein (TVP) or crumbled firm tofu.
Chicken caesar wrap
Cook chicken breast strips in a little oil in pan until done, or use pre-cooked chicken slices. Place in middle of large tortilla; add chopped romaine lettuce and your choice of veggies or ready-to-serve “salad in a bag.” Top with shredded mozzarella cheese and a little “light” Caesar salad dressing, tuck in ends of tortilla and roll up.
Breakfast for dinner omelet
Beat 2 eggs with 2 tablespoons of water. Heat a medium size non-stick frying pan until just hot enough to sizzle a drop of water. Add a little margarine if desired. Pour in egg mixture - it should start to set immediately. Cook, lifting sides of omelet with a pancake turner to let the uncooked egg flow underneath, until almost set (about 1 minute). Add desired filling on one half of omelet and fold plain side over top. Cook for another minute and invert onto plate. Filling ideas: mushrooms, onion, green onion, red or green pepper, cooked broccoli, tomatoes, asparagus, salsa, diced ham or cheese.
Brown lean ground beef, chicken or turkey in a pan with chopped onion, garlic,mushrooms and green pepper. Add a can of pasta sauce and cook on low heat. Meanwhile, cook pasta according to package directions, drain, and top with sauce. For vegetarian version, add red lentils with an equal amount of water to sauce or try soy ground “meat” or texturized vegetable protein (TVP) from the bulk store.
Tuna or salmon melt
Mix drained canned tuna or salmon with a spoonful of light mayo. Add chopped celery, onion and a little pickle relish if desired. Spread on a sliced bagel or English muffin half. Top with shredded cheese slice and bake in oven (375°) for 5 – 10 minutes or until cheese melts.
Mix some salsa with canned low-fat refried or black beans and spread on one side of a tortilla. Top with veggies (chopped green and red peppers, tomatoes, green onions, etc.) and shredded cheese. Fold tortilla in half and toast in ungreased frying pan until cheese melts and tortilla is lightly browned (about 2 minutes each side). You could also replace the beans with sliced chicken.
Top a whole grain pita with canned pasta sauce, shredded low-fat mozzarella, chopped deli ham or smoked turkey and your choice of veggies. Bake on pan in oven (375°) until cheese melts, 5 - 7 minutes.
There’s no doubt that what we eat influences our physical and mental wellness and can impact academic success. Learning some nutrition basics can help you have more energy and stay healthy. Even busy students can incorporate these simple strategies.
Eat a variety of healthy foods each day
Building a balanced plate is easy when you follow the Food Guide proportions. Fill half your plate with vegetables and fruit – any kind, the greater the variety the better! Fresh, frozen or canned are all good choices. Add ¼ plate of whole grains, like 100% whole grain bread, oats, barley, brown rice, whole grain pasta or quinoa. Fill the remaining quarter with a protein-rich food like beans, lentils, chickpeas, edamame, nuts and seeds, lean meat, poultry, fish, shellfish, eggs, lower fat milk, yogurt, kefir, cheese or soy milk. Choosing protein that comes from plants more often is good for health, better for the planet and usually costs less money. The healthiest fats and oils also come from plants, like olive, canola or avocado oils and peanut butter. Use small amounts to add flavor and nutrients to meals.
Choose fewer highly processed foods
Eat more foods that contain fewer ingredients and especially less salt, sugar and saturated fat. Highly processed foods, like sugary baked goods and cereals, sweetened drinks, candy, fast food burgers, French fries and pizza, and meats like hot dogs, bacon, and chicken nuggets, boxed macaroni and cheese and instant noodles contain few nutrients. Relying on these foods too often can affect your health. Enjoy all foods but balance less nutritious meals or snacks with healthy choices more often. Reading food labels can help you compare and choose products so you can make an informed choice when buying packaged foods.
Did you know?
100g gummy bears (about 35), contain 18 teaspoons of sugar.
How much should you eat?
The amount of food you need depends on many factors including age, body size, gender and activity level. Pay attention to feelings of fullness to help you know when you’ve had enough to eat and give your body time to digest your meal before you take seconds. Canada’s Food Guide can help you learn more about the amount and types of foods you need.
How often should you eat?
Eating regularly keeps your blood sugar stable and improves your focus and energy level. Even if you can’t always eat at the same time, try to include 3 meals every day. When there is more than 4 or 5 hours between meals, plan for an energy-boosting snack. Evenings can be an especially tempting time to mindlessly eat sugary, salty or high fat treats like chips, candy or cookies. If you’re hungry or feel an energy slump, take a study break and eat a healthy snack. Choose foods that help to fuel your brain, like vegetables and hummus, an apple with peanut butter or sunflower seeds or Greek yogurt and fruit. Save the treats for a movie night or an evening with friends instead of relying on them as regular study snacks.
Make time for breakfast
According to studies, students who eat breakfast have better concentration and less fatigue and consume more nutrients and fibre. Breakfast replenishes your body’s energy after an overnight fast. While it’s tempting to hit the snooze button, making time to eat is well worth it. Many make-at-home options only take a few minutes, like an egg on a whole grain English Muffin or bagel, yogurt with frozen berries and granola, or a whole grain cereal with milk and fruit.
Easy Overnight Oats
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) uncooked oats
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) yogurt
- 1/3 to 1/2 cup (75 to 125 mL) any type of milk
- 1 tsp to 2 tsp (5 to 10 mL) chia seeds (optional)
- A little honey or maple syrup if needed
- Mix ingredients and refrigerate overnight or up to 3 days. Add ins: fresh, dried or frozen fruit, nuts or seeds, nut butter, coconut, cinnamon, vanilla, etc.
What you drink counts, too
Drink water as your main beverage, aiming for at least 9 cups or 2 litres daily. Fancy coffees and cappuccinos, pop, sweetened teas, energy drinks and even fruit juice can overload your diet with sugar and extra calories. If you drink coffee, limit yourself to no more that 2 per day.
How sweet it is. . .
- 591 mL bottle of cola = 260 calories/18 tsp sugar
- Medium iced capp = 360 calories/ 12 tsp sugar
- Large “double-double” = 264 calories/8 tsp sugar
What about supplements?
Vitamin and mineral supplements don’t provide the benefits you get from eating a variety of real foods. Taking a daily multi-vitamin is safe but avoid other supplements without first checking with a registered dietitian or your healthcare provider. Vitamin D is hard to get from food alone; adults living in Canada may consider taking a supplement that contains 600 IU of Vitamin D during the fall, winter and spring. Women who could become or who are pregnant need a daily multivitamin containing folic acid. Don’t used “detox teas” as there is no scientific evidence they are helpful and in fact can be dangerous. View “natural” or herbal preparations with caution; their effects on health often need further research.
There’s more to eating well…
Try to cook most of your meals. Even if you don’t have much cooking experience, start with easy recipes that need only a few ingredients. Eat meals with others when you can. Take time to enjoy your food. Be a mindful eater – notice when you are hungry and when you are full. Plan meals ahead of time and make a grocery list before you shop. When you stock up on nutritious foods, you’re more likely to eat well and less likely to rely on takeout or fast foods. Eating doesn’t have to be perfect – try to do the best you can. Improvements in your diet are more likely to be successful if you focus on small, manageable, measurable goals. Change takes some effort, but you’re worth it!
All-nighters in the library. A diet of coffee and gummy bears. Sound familiar? It’s exam time - and you’ve got a lot more on your mind than good nutrition.
If you’re like many students, preparing for exams can lead to a major energy crisis. The foods you choose to eat have a definite impact on both your energy level and academic performance. Poor eating habits can leave you feeling drained and struggling to remember what you spent hours learning. Follow these tips and don’t leave yourself running on empty!
After a 12 or 14 hour fast, your body needs food in order to function at its best. Short on time? Try one of these 5-minute meal ideas, choosing whole grains whenever possible:
- Whole grain cereal, milk, OJ
- Bagel with peanut butter, banana
- Instant oatmeal with raisins and milk
- Toaster waffle with frozen berries, yogurt
- Bran muffin, piece of cheese, grapes
- High fibre cereal bar, chocolate milk, apple
- English muffin with cheese and tomato
Re-fuel every 3-4 hours
Students who eat at regular intervals avoid energy slumps and the extreme hunger that can lead to binge eating. If your meals are more than four hours apart, have a snack. Stock the fridge, freezer and cupboards ahead of time with nutritious, easily-prepared foods: whole grain bread, cereals and pasta, pasta sauce, lentils, bean and vegetable soups, tuna, eggs, pre-cooked sliced meats or chicken, frozen fish fillets, ready-made salads, frozen veggies and fruit, fresh fruit, nuts, yogurt, cheese, and milk.
Plan balanced snacks
Although a handful of gummy bears may satisfy you for a few minutes, a quick sugar fix provides little brain fuel and is likely to leave you feeling more sluggish. A nutritious snack should contain a balance of carbohydrate and protein to stabilize your blood sugar and keep you energized. Here are some healthy options: cheese and whole grain crackers, apple with peanut butter, almonds and dried fruit, hummus and raw veggies, yogurt with berries and granola, or a whole wheat English muffin with almond butter.
Don’t depend on caffeine
Caffeine can give you an immediate energy boost, but its effect is short-lived. If you overdo it, you’ll feel even worse...jittery, restless, irritable, and unable to relax. Limit yourself to 2 cups of coffee per day or try tea, which has less than half the caffeine of coffee and contains antioxidants which may be beneficial to health.
Water! Water! Water!
Aim for at least 6 cups/1500 ml of water daily and steer clear of pop, fruit-flavoured drinks, and other sugary beverages. Dehydration can make you feel sluggish and light-headed, so take a refillable water bottle with you and refill your glass often when at home.
Avoid mindless munching
It’s easy to polish off a bag of chips or cookies while you study so don’t bring snacks to your study spot. Eat in the kitchen or away from your desk. Take regular breaks and look for true hunger signs, like stomach twinges or growling noises.
Take an activity break
Falling energy levels can also be a sign that you’ve been sitting too long. A short walk in the fresh air will help your concentration and allow you to feel more relaxed and alert.
For more healthy eating tips, check out Canada's Food Guide!
Rinse 1 cup of long-grain rice in cold water. Place rice a small covered dish, add 2 cups of water and cover. Microwave on high for 4 minutes then on medium for 10 minutes. Easier still, buy quick-cooking or instant whole grain brown rice that can be ready in as little as 10 minutes!
Crack eggs in a bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of milk for each egg and mix with fork until blended. Heat frying pan over medium heat and add a little margarine or cooking spray. Pour egg mixture into pan. Let sit for about 15 seconds, then stir eggs gently, breaking up larger pieces, until set. Eggs should not be “runny” as this increases your risk of food poisoning.
Put eggs in small sauce pan. Cover with cold water and bring to a boil over medium heat. When the water starts to boil, cover and turn off the stove burner. Let the eggs sit in the covered pan for 20 minutes and then rinse in cold water. Crack shells gently to remove.
Scrub a potato and pat dry. Prick the potato all over with a fork and place on a paper towel or plate in the microwave. Cook on high for 4 to 6 minutes (cooking time will vary according to potato size and the microwave.) OR, bake in center of oven (375°), directly on oven rack for an hour. For an even more nutritious and delicious treat, try microwaving a sweet potato!