Column: Tips for eating healthy as a student

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By Allie Kuo, lifestyle columnist

Since beginning college, it has been a miracle if I can sit down for three meals a day. I remember my mom being concerned that 15 meal swipes wouldn’t be enough for a week, but I often have plenty left over on Saturday. Between balancing classes, work, meetings and everything else that comes with being a student, eating often takes a back seat.

If you consider finding time for food an accomplishment, eating healthy might sound daunting. Why make sure you’ve hit your daily recommended servings of the five food groups — fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins and dairy — when you can just grab a burger and call it a day? This shouldn’t be a surprise, but filling your body with nutritious foods does more than ease your guilty conscience about that third cookie you’ve had — it could also positively affect your academic performance and contribute to a better overall lifestyle.

At home, I would always feel a bit off if I missed a meal, but now I can cruise through morning classes on just a banana. I’m sure some skip breakfast altogether, and I now know this is the biggest mistake you can make when it comes to eating well.

Though it’s debatable whether breakfast is the most important meal, missing your first meal can throw off your entire eating schedule. When I had time for even yogurt and berries, I was more awake and full of energy. While Greek yogurt has more protein than normal yogurt, the fats from both provide the push for your mind and body to get through the morning.

Instead of holding out for lunch, where your growing hunger might make you scarf down more than you would typically eat, try to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner to get a balanced spread of food throughout the day.

If waking up early to get breakfast seems too optimistic, there are also quick alternatives. A banana may be a classic on-the-go breakfast, but don’t let that be the only thing you eat. Despite their high levels of potassium and antioxidants, bananas are also high in sugar, so balance it out with a healthy fat or protein like nuts or yogurt. I’ll usually grab a handful of almonds to go along with the fruit.

An article from The New York Times writes that breakfast shouldn’t taste like dessert — a good point. As tempting as a bowl of Lucky Charms are, choose less sugary options such as granola or eggs so you don’t crash from a sugar rush in the middle of class.

Lunch is a great time to make sure you’re eating healthy because for students, it tends to be smaller and quicker than dinner. So, you can go a little lighter with it. If you find yourself at Rebecca’s Cafe, pick an apple instead of chips. You can never have too much fruit, which can give  you energy to power through your day.

Sandwiches are great because they usually hit all of the main food groups. If possible, ask for extra dark leafy greens like spinach, which is filled with vitamins and minerals.

Another great and quick lunch is the West End in the Curry Student Center, where you can use a meal swipe for a salad and a drink. A spinach and mixed greens salad with beans and veggies, as well as chicken or tofu, is my go-to if I’m running to work and want something portable yet nutritious. Avoid creamy dressings to bring down fat content and calories; the balsamic vinaigrette is a good alternative. Side note: Drizzling balsamic vinegar and olive oil with some salt on your greens makes a healthy, flavorful dressing.

Come dinner time, there are many options, making it a bit trickier to stay focused on picking the healthiest choices. If I’m in the dining hall, my usual strategy is to go for a whole grain as my carb — such as picking brown rice over white rice — and eating various vegetables of different colors. Not only is eating the rainbow aesthetically pleasing, you also intake a good variety of nutrients.

As far as protein goes, the best rule is to stay away from anything breaded and fried — grilled chicken or roasted pork are delicious alternatives.  Round out your meal with some fruit, instead of dessert. It will leave you satisfied without weighing you down.

Despite what concerned family members may think, the “freshman 15” is not inevitable. The incentive for maintaining a healthy, consistent diet also goes beyond its physical benefits.

By making a conscious effort to put good things into your body, you are setting yourself up for success, whether it’s having enough energy to stay focused in a lecture or going for a positive lifestyle change. While it’s still important to treat yourself and go for that deliciously greasy pizza every once in a while, just make sure to balance it out with a healthy dose of fruits, vegetables or some other form of nature’s goodies. Your body will thank you.