Monday, January 27, 2014

College Tips for Crunchy Kids: Nutrition

So, last month I turned 18, but I'm actually on my second year of college.  My friends that are my age are just now gearing up for college, so I've got new beginnings on my mind.  Fellow 18-year-olds, fear not: I come armed with tips to help you feel more college-ready in all the ways that your counselor won't know how to address.

Behold: College Tips for Crunchy Kids (like myself).  Today we're gonna talk about how to eat healthily while in college.

1. First and foremost, scope out the scene.  If you are living on campus, ask:  What does the cafeteria already serve?  Are there multiple options?  If you're allergic or sensitive to something, your first step is to talk to nutrition services.  Can they accommodate your food sensitivities or dietary preferences?  Don't just assume that the people handling your food will automatically know all the places that gluten can hide, or that cross-contamination is a major problem when it comes to peanut allergies. Further, it is not enough to tell the staff what doesn't work for you.  Let them know what you CAN eat!  You must be your own advocate.

If allergies and sensitivities aren't as much a problem for you, or if cross contamination is no biggie, the salad bar can be the perfect place for a crunchy kid to nosh.  Not all of the options at a salad bar are inherently healthy, however crunchy they may be (croutons, for example).  Load up on the greens, choose lean proteins and seek out or even bring in an inoffensive vinaigrette.  Whole fruits are likely to be provided, and as far as grains go--you know which are or aren't appropriate for your own body.

2. The kitchen is there for you to use, so use it.  Especially if cafeteria food isn't gonna cut it, you should seek out the kitchens available for student use.  There might be one in the dorm.  Keep in mind that others will be using this kitchen, as well.  It might be worth educating your regular kitchen-mates about your dietary peculiarities, if you are allergic, sensitive or averse to any particular foods.  No sense suffering from cross-contamination if cooperative camaraderie is a request away.

Consider making big batches of food to consume all week.  Hard-boiled eggs, muffins or roasted chickpeas might be a good place to start for grab-and-go food.

3. Invest in dorm or apartment-friendly appliances to make your life easier.  A mini-fridge can be immensely helpful to any college kid, crunchy or not.  Ask administration (or whoever is in charge) what appliances are or aren't allowed in the dorm.  Blenders might be helpful for making on-the-spot smoothie meals (I like this little Ninja, which has held up amazingly well through regular use for the past year and a half).  A crock pot might be useful, too, depending on how much cooking you're willing to do.  Talk to your room-mate, as well--if he or she is interested in using the gadgets, you could go halvsies on the cost and share.

4. If you are pressed for time (who isn't?), check out minimally processed convenience foods.  Hummus and veggies, almond butter with apples or celery, trail mix, quality energy bars like Thuro Bread or Aztec bars, grass-fed jerky like Nick's Sticks or even an organic rotisserie chicken from the local health food store (if you've got a way to store it) can be a lifesaver.  Figure out what works for you, and keep those things in mind when finals week rolls around. (You'll be glad you did.)

Please avoid using caffeine as a substitute for real-food-derived energy.  You'll feel better and perform better in the long run, and you won't end up with an addiction to coffee or energy drinks out of the bargain.

Old-hats, got any tips to share?  Bestow your wisdom in the comments below.  Newbies, got any questions?  Let me know so they can be addressed! 

*It's worth saying, as well--I am not compensated for any recommendations that I make in this post.  All the resources I mention here are things I've used or that I would consider using for real.  Complete transparency here.  :)