Monday, August 27, 2012

Healthy Tips for Back to School

This morning I appeared on CTV Morning Live Saskatoon to discuss the dreaded 'Freshman 15'.  Surprising to some, most research doesn't show such a high weight increase in the first year of college/university.  On average, first year students gain 2.5-3.5 lbs, the problem is that it may continue throughout their studies and into their career (with females gaining 7-9 lbs and males 12-13 lbs over their college career).

Heading back to school is a great time to start thinking about building a new healthy habit.  University freshmen may not have great cooking skills, understand portion sizes, or realize the importance of healthy and nutritious foods.

Some of the challenges these students face include:
  • no longer having access to home cooked meals
  • increased freedom and independence over their food choices
  • consumption of liquid calories (alcohol, specialty coffees, pop, etc.) 
  • food available at every turn (cafes, restaurants, fast food, convenience stores, vending machines)
  • high stress levels (and potentially anxiety and homesickness) which can lead to emotional eating
  • decreased sleep (which can increase appetite and allow you more hours to eat)
  • decreased physical activity
  • a lack of cooking or food preparation skills
  • eating out more often (less control over what's in your food)
  • trying to eat on a tight budget
  • munching while late night studying or socializing
  • skipping meals (and overindulging later)
A great way to get started is to plan out a week of meals and snacks and get the appropriate groceries.  Shopping off a list helps you stay within a budget and make sure healthy options are available when hunger strikes.  It's also a good idea to pack snacks and/or lunch in your bag so you can eat between classes rather than end up always buying food or stopping at the vending machine.  If you are eating out, find ways to include vegetables - load up your pizza, pita, or sub, or hit the salad bar.  Don't attack a buffet unprepared - check out the options and then choose accordingly.  Once you know what's available on campus it's a good idea to have a plan in order to avoid temptation (ie. I'll get a made to order fajita, not a burger and fries).

When cooking for yourself it's great to have creative ways to use leftovers so that you don't feel like you're always eating the same thing.  This is also budget friendly and saves time.
  • rice - eat it hot, have it in a wrap, have it in a salad, or add it to soup
  • pasta - have it hot, have it in a salad
  • veggies - have them hot, have them with eggs as a frittata, have them in a salad or wrap 
Protein can be expensive, but you can include nut butters, canned fish, and/or beans for budget friendly options.

Still looking for a study snack?  Air-popped or microwave popcorn is a great way to get crunch.  A cup of popcorn is only about 30 Calories (vs 160 for potato chips).  Plus popcorn contains fibre, is a whole grain, and contains antioxidants (including some polyphenols not found in other vegetables and fruit).  Don't have an air popper?  Place 3-4 Tbsp of kernels in a brown paper bag, fold twice to seal and microwave for 1.5-2 minutes (depending on your microwave) until the popping slows.  Loads of butter and salt can negate the health benefits, so have fun with different herbs, spices, and seasonings (garlic powder, Parmesan cheese, cocoa powder, cinnamon, etc.) .  Plus remember to take a mental break from studying by being active and getting sleep.

Steph Langdon, RD
something nutrishus counselling & coaching