Dorm Room Nutrition: Preventing the Freshman 15
While the “freshman 15” has gained it’s reputation from the excessive amount of drinking when beginning college, the reality is that it’s not just the beer pong that contributes to the trend of freshman weight gain. It’s also stress, lack of enough exercise, too little sleep, and most importantly, poor nutrition.
Now, for those of you in college right now, I know that the last thing you want to be thinking about is what you eat. These are the days of grab-n’-go ramen noodles or 3 am visits to the diner for cheese fries and a burger. While these experiences are seemingly life-changing in your early 20s when you’re rocking a late night buzz, they will likely come back to bite you.
It’s not about the way you look with having gained a few pounds, it’s your lack of mental clarity and poor health that is really going to weigh you down in school. I’m sure you well know that mac n’ cheese and cereal aren’t exactly “brain foods”!
So How Do You Navigate Food At College?
Getting creative with food options in the dorm room can be intimidating but it’s definitely worth it. The first step is to schmooze your parents into buying you a few kitchen essentials. Tell them you’re concerned with your well-being… I’m sure they won’t argue with that!
The following is a list of dorm-room “kitchen” must-haves, with a few additional items that just make life easier. Having these tools in your arsenal will allow you to prep food and snacks for your upcoming week. This is the key to eating healthy. Take one day a week in which you dedicate a few hours to food shopping and prepping. Since you will be living at college a while, it will serve you well to be prepared and have the intention of setting up good, healthy habits.
Kitchen Dorm Essentials:
- Fridge (hopefully with a small freezer)
- Blender (beg mom for the Vitamix blender so you can make soups, juices, smoothies and more!)
- Electric burner (if allowed)
- Rice cooker (the Instant Pot doubles as a slow-cooker which can really come in handy)
- Medium sauté pan
- Medium sauce pot
- Electric teapot for boiling water
- Glass Tupperware containers
- Can opener
- Set of measuring spoons and cups
- Small whisk (small enough to fit in a cup)
- Small cheese grater
- Medium, fine-meshed sieve
- Mug, spoon, fork, knife
Now let’s move on to some All-Star food choices that will feed the brain and keep the “freshman 15” out of your dorm room for good!
These are great on just about anything but are especially good on celery sticks or an apple. Many college students have been known to eat it right off the spoon! Almond butter, cashew butter, hazelnut butter and other nut or seed butters are also highly desirable. Read your labels because the fewer the ingredients in the butter, the better. Nut butters are rich in quality protein and healthy fat, both of which are required for healthy brain cells and normal blood sugar regulation. Plus they are very satisfying. The more satiating the food, the less you need. Don’t fall for the old dogma that fat is bad for you. We now know that quality natural fats are quite healthy.
Having a large decorative bowl dedicated to fruit is always a Good Decision. Apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes, and lemons are firm fruits and will last a while in a bowl. (Lemons are especially great for supporting the liver, which can be easily compromised by too much alcohol.) This beautiful bowl serves as a visual reminder to “eat me!” before going bad. Buy a variety of fruits and if any ripen too fast, simply throw them in the fridge to use in a smoothie.
Yes, you read that right, a veggie bowl! A good start would be to have garlic, shallots, ginger, onions, tomatoes, avocados and bell peppers. These ingredients will make a boring bean burrito super tasty, give nutrition to some bland ramen, or new life to a plastic-wrapped sandwich from the dining hall.
Snackable veggies that will keep well such as carrots, peppers, cauliflower and broccoli are great to chop up and put into individual baggies to eat throughout your day. A microwave-baked potato or sweet potato with a big pad of butter is a great dorm meal. It only takes minutes!
A word of warning— delicious smells coming from your room will likely attract hungry visitors from down the hall.
Eggs are one of the most complete protein sources available. This means you can eat one egg and get all of the essential amino acids your body needs. Total brain food right here! If you have a microwave, making scrambled eggs is a breeze in the morning before class. Add a slice of cheese, fold all into a corn tortilla and tada! You have a breakfast burrito. Top it with avocado and salsa and you’ll really be living the high life!
Eggs also make the perfect snack. You can hard boil a dozen eggs on the weekend and grab one or two on the go when you need something healthy and satisfying, fast.
Coconut oil is an all-star brain food. The ketones in coconut oil feed the brain in a way similar to glucose. It can also be used as an antibacterial, anti-fungal and antiviral immune system booster internally. Not to mention coconut oil can be used to soften skin, and it lasts forever at room temperature. This is a little pricier than other oils, but it’s definitely worth it. Put it in your morning oatmeal for an extra boost, use it to cook your eggs in, put it into smoothies and pop popcorn in it. Plop a spoonful into your massive mug of I-need-this-to-be-alive liquid (aka coffee) and you’ll soar through the day like nobody’s business! The fat is very satiating so you don’t need much. A tablespoon per day will do a whole heck of a lot to keep your brain moving and your body satisfied.
Packed with essential amino acids, B vitamins and minerals, this can be put on everything and is great for supporting stress and blood sugar regulation. This is a must have for the dorm vegetarian. Put it in your smoothies or sprinkle it into salads, pasta, soups and veggies. For my all-time favorite, sprinkle it over popcorn on movie night. Cheesy without the cheese!
These can be tricky as they are often a source of hidden sugars. When it comes to the “freshman 15”, sugar is by far the number one offender, and will put weight on your hips faster than anything else. If you read the ingredient list on a box of bars, look for mostly natural protein, with some fat and minimal carbs to sweeten them. The ingredient list should only contain things that you know. Protein bars are great to throw in your backpack next to the apple and cut up veggies or hard-boiled egg to snack on throughout the day. .
Even for those who aren’t allergic to gluten, eating bread is often a one-way ticket to fatigue. That delicious french loaf is not going to help you to write your ten page paper! Non-gluten containing grains such as quinoa, teff, amaranth, brown rice and wild rice are all very healthy and easy to prepare. These can all be soaked overnight, then cooked in your rice cooker. Think rice bowl with onions, peppers, mushrooms, garlic, ginger, thyme or sage. Add these ingredients to the water before you cook it, along with some butter, and you’ve got yourself a delicious dinner! Rice is also always a staple in a tortilla with refried beans, sliced avocado and salsa. Yum.
While we don’t have dairy recipes on our website because many people have allergies or sensitivities to dairy, for many people, dairy foods are a good source of protein, quality fat and minerals. For those who tolerate dairy, consuming 2-3 servings of organic dairy products per week is very healthful. Quick and easy dairy snacks would be organic cultured whole fat milk, cultured buttermilk, plain whole milk yogurt, kefir, or my personal favorite, raw cheese. Again, if you feel gassy, bloated, or irritable, dairy may not be a good choice for you. Always purchase organic dairy if possible to avoid growth hormones.
Dairy items that contain the most sugar are the sweetened or flavored varieties or those with syrupy fruits added. Avoid these and reach for plain, full-fat dairy items that you can add your own fresh fruit to.
Nuts and Seeds
Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein and healthy fats. They help to keep you full for a long period of time and are easy to take with you when you’re heading to class or on-the-go. Make little baggies ahead of time for when you’re in a rush. Add in sunflower and pumpkin seeds for an extra omega-3 brain boost.
Beans are great for dorms because you can buy them in bulk and store them until you need them. Beans don’t spoil and are easy to cook when you know how. All you have to remember to do is soak them overnight. Beans are also an excellent way to deliver other all-star foods into your belly such as seafood, garlic, tomatoes, peppers, onions, and whatever else you would like to add to them. Beans are a great pasta substitute and are a nice protein source for the vegetarian college student.
Hummus is a great legume dip made from chickpeas, garlic, and olive oil and is easy to store in a small dorm room refrigerator. It can be used as a dip for veggies, or as a dressing for a mixture of beans, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumber, onion and kalamata olives. It’s also really easy to make in your own blender!
These can be really healthy or really unhealthy. While Top Ramen is a classic dorm room go-to, loads of salt and gluten aren’t going to give you the fuel you’re looking for. I would suggest much healthier, lower salt versions of soup to nourish the body and the mind. Organic soups that contain beans, peas and lentils, as well as vegetables, are your best options. These are easy to prepare in your dorm room microwave. Always use glass, not plastic.
Canned or Smoked Fish
Talk about brain food, this is the biggest one of all! Shown to help with ADHD, Dementia, Alzheimer’s and more, fish such as canned light tuna and canned salmon stay fresh for a long time and are excellent sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. How would you use these tasty little fishies? On salads, wrapped in an organic corn tortilla with tomato, lettuce, avocado, or even right out of the tin. Smoked salmon, oysters, or sardines also make a delicious European meal with olives and cheese.
Ready to go food shopping yet? Here’s your starter list:
For the Fridge:
- Whole fat organic plain yogurt (to mix with fruit and nuts as a snack)
- Veggies (carrots, celery, bell peppers, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc)
- Eggs (to hard-boil for an on-the-go snack)
- Raw cheese
- Smoked salmon
For the Freezer:
- Mixed veggies (you can thaw these in the microwave and serve with a whole pre-cooked rotisserie chicken from the market)
- Mixed berries (these can be added to oatmeal, yogurt, or blended into a morning smoothie)
- Frozen seafood or animal proteins (that can be cooked over your electric burner if you are allowed one)
For the Shelf:
- A Variety of Nuts (mix raw cashews, almonds and walnuts with pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds and place in plastic bags to last the week)
- Canned soups (emphasis on vegetable, peas, beans and lentils)
- Canned Chili
- Canned white beans (these can be mixed with veggies, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper for a quick, yet healthy bean salad, hot or cold)
- Nut Butters
- Herbal teas
- Applesauce and canned fruits (with no added sugar)
- Canned or jarred olives
- Dried fruit
- Organic popcorn (this can be popped in your sauce pan with coconut oil)
- Whole grain organic corn tortillas (for breakfast burritos and quesadillas)
- Brown rice or other non-gluten grains
- Nitrate-free organic beef jerky
- Organic corn chips
- Red wine vinegar and/or balsamic vinegar (for salad dressings)
- Olive oil
- Spices and herbs: salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, cinnamon, thyme, sage, rosemary, and any other of your favorite condiments.
Space can be tight in a dorm room so you’ll have to get creative. If you have no cabinets or shelves for dry goods, you can purchase a couple of plastic containers or milk crates and stack them for vertical storage. You can either put your bed on risers and store these underneath, or if you have the space, stack a bunch of bins and put it to the side of your bed to double as a small table.
Ok, so now you’ve food shopped and have stocked you room full of healthy goodies! The following lists of easy meal ideas can be printed out and kept on your desk to remind you what your options are when you’re in a hurry. Don’t forget that prepping will make life a lot easier!
- Microwaved scrambled eggs and a piece of fruit
- Breakfast burrito (Scramble 2 eggs in a glass microwave-safe dish and 2 tablespoons shredded cheese. Microwave for 2-3 minutes or until eggs are set. Wrap in a whole-grain tortilla and top with salsa and guacamole.)
- Huevos rancheros with black beans
- Green smoothie (In a blender combine 1 green apple peeled, cored and coarsely chopped with 1 banana, 1 cup kale, ½ cup parsley, 2 cups coconut water and 1 teaspoon coconut oil. Blend until smooth!)
- Orange Beet Juice, for those hangover mornings (Combine 3 oranges peeled, 1 medium beet coarsely chopped and 1 piece of peeled ginger about the size of your thumbnail in a Vitamix blender with 2 cups coconut juice. If your urine and stool turn bright red, do not be alarmed, it is the beets!)
- Oatmeal with butter, canned peaches and cinnamon, or bananas and berries
- Canned soup
- Canned chili
- Nut butter and jelly tortilla wrap
- Humus stuffed into large lettuce leaf with tomatoes, cucumber, red onion and kalamata olives
- Chicken Lettuce Wraps (chop pre-cooked whole chicken leftovers and mix with chopped peppers, onion, peanuts and wrap into lettuce)
- Try the salad bar!
There is no law that says you have to eat lunch, especially in college. If you snack throughout the day from your trusty backpack stores, you will be just fine. Just be sure not to starve yourself and then overcompensate at dinner.
- Jazzed-Up Rice & Beans (Cook together 1 can white beans, 1 cup cooked rice, 2 cloves chopped garlic, 1 tablespoon chopped pepperoncini peppers, olive oil, salt, pepper, parsley and parmesan cheese.)
- Canned Bean Salads (Combine white, garbanzo, kidney, and lima beans together with sliced red onion, red pepper, green pepper, red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper. Refrigerate for a mega nutrient rich, low calorie dinner.)
- Salad (Pre-washed bagged lettuce makes a quick easy dinner. Simply toss in some veggies, beans, chicken and equal parts olive oil and balsamic vinegar.)
- Lettuce Wraps (Wrap chicken or beans into lettuce with finely chopped veggies of your choice.)
- Rice bowls (Add beans, cheese, veggies and soy or teriyaki sauce to cooked rice.)
- Microwave Baked Sweet Potato (with butter, and cinnamon!)
- Organic Roasted Chicken (Pick up a whole rotisserie chicken from the market and munch on it throughout the week.)
- Coconut Water (Full of natural electrolytes and is a great hydrating beverage. Often called nature’s hangover cure.)
- Lemon water (Great liver support and very cleansing.)
- Herbal teas
- Homemade Electrolyte Lemonade (If you are an athlete this will be your muscles’ best friend! Use instead of sports drinks.)
- Good Ole’ Water (Your body is over 70% water! You desperately need this stuff!)
- Unsweetened Cranberry Juice (An ounce of this in water regularly will do much to maintain a healthy urinary system for both men and women.)
If you noticed, beer and vodka tonics weren’t included on this list!
The Importance of Exercising Self Control
The moral of the story is that your ability to self-govern effectively around food (and drinks!) is what will ultimately keep the “freshman 15” off your hips. It is important to exercise self control and make nutritious choices most of the time but don’t let the “all or none” approach run your life either. Don’t let food put limitations on your social life. After all, life is too short not to enjoy a late night slice of pizza with friends every now and then, right? Make the conscious decision to treat yourself once in a while but also be aware of the moments of unconscious overindulgence. Did you eat that donut during a relaxing coffee break between study sessions, or did you scarf it down to get a quick sugar buzz on the way to a class that you’re late for?
Making The Right Decisions
Overindulgence happens when we feel the discomfort of having something in front of us that we know we shouldn’t eat, but we eat it anyway. We do this because it is uncomfortable to say no, especially when it’s in front of others who are feasting away. You may even come up with justifications as to why you feel that you have earned foods like sugar, soda, or fast food. You may eat these unhealthy foods to be part of the crowd or to soothe yourself and get away from uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes it may feel involuntary, as if you don’t even have a choice in the matter… but you do.
You always have two choices:
- You can overeat, or eat foods you know are unhealthy for you.
The temptation to eat the unhealthy food to make you feel better (temporarily) can be very strong. However, if you assess this choice, you will see that, if made often, it will result in weight gain, poor mental clarity, and a host of other health issues down the road.
- You can choose to eat healthy.
If you assess this choice, you will realize that you are making the decisions to enhance your mental clarity, increase athletic performance and nourish a healthy body and radiant skin. However, you will have to face sitting in the discomfort of not eating the foods that you know are unhealthy for you. You will have to get used to being uncomfortable and find other ways to soothe yourself than with food. You may have to wait long periods of time to eat healthy, and risk not fitting in with the group. You may be judged.
Assessing this option further however, you know that the uncomfortable moments will pass. If you stand your ground in the beginning, friends will simply come to know you as someone who eats healthy and takes care of oneself. You will not be pressured after you hold your boundaries a few times. When you do this this you learn how to self-govern, and will be more able to handle stress as well as anything else life may throw at you. You will enjoy more energy, vitality and mental clarity than you ever dreamed of, and you will have learned to honor yourself.
You’re in Control!
Practice saying no to fast foods and processed foods, and stand your ground when peer pressure may be applied. You may not have been taught to delay gratification but choosing to sit in the discomfort of not having the food helps you to develop psychological hardiness. Remember that you are now an adult. You are responsible for setting and holding your own boundaries, not only with food, but also with relationships, a work/play balance and much more.
The more you practice making conscious choices, the more power you will have over your life. This is a wonderful place to be! How exciting it is to be in control of yourself and your destiny! Who knew that choosing to eat healthier would positively affect so many areas of your life? Give it a try and see what comes of it.
So, what Good Decision will you make today?