With millions of young men and women starting college over the next few days, I decided to pick my friend Mary Dye’s brain for advice, suggestions, and a “Nutrition 101” crash course for the Class of 2011!
Ms. Dye studied anthropology and art history at Flagler College in St. Augustine, FL, but, upon realizing her passion for food and health, enrolled in the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Public Health Nutrition Master’s program. There, she also completed coursework to become a Registered Dietitian.
While completing her academic degree, Miss Dye was UNC Chapel Hill’s campus nutritionist.
She then moved to New York City and was a member of Fern Gale Estrow’s Food and Nutrition Team, focusing on nutrition policy and advocacy.
Miss Dye is currently a nutritionist at New York University’s Health Center, where she counsels a multitude of students on a variety of goals and concerns, including body image and eating disorders.
Below, some very helpful information for anyone navigating through all-you-can eat cafeterias, regardless of your age.
Small Bites: Many students starting college this fall are living in kitchen-less dorms. What are some good snacks you recommend they keep in their room to prevent from ordering in pizza every night at 2 AM?
Mary Dye: The key to a great snack is to keep it around 300 cal or less and make sure it contains fiber, protein and some healthy fat. These components help you to feel satisfied, which can prevent further snacking throughout the night.
In a kitchen-less dorm, healthy eating may be a challenge, but it’s easy to store items such fresh produce and canned fruits in light syrup (to avoid added sugars drain off the excess liquid and run fruit under water), nuts and nut butters and a variety of grains.
I’m probably not supposed to advocate this, but I always advise students to grab at least one piece of fruit every time they leave the dining hall. These fruits can be incorporated into snacks throughout the day. Here are some healthy snack ideas:
If you have a sweet tooth try:
- Graham crackers with soy milk (if there is no refrigerator available, stock up on individual cartons that are shelf-stable)
- No-sugar added applesauce mixed with peanut butter spread on whole grain crackers, such as Kashi’s TLC
- Sweet snack bars such as Pure bar or Lara bar or granola bars such as Kashi
- Bananas with almond butter and raisins
- Dried fruit, sunflower seeds and nuts
For a crunchy snack, turn to:
- High fiber cereal (such as Cheerios, Kashi Heart to Heart or Barbara’s Bakery Organic Shredded Oats) mixed with almonds and unsweetened banana chips – you could even throw in a few chocolate chips
- Sliced vegetables such as carrots, cucumbers or peppers dipped in salsa or hummus
- Air popped pop-corn with chili powder or cinnamon
- Apples or pears with sliced cheese (Cabot brand makes great 50% and 75% light cheddar varieties in small “snack packs”)
- Melba toast or Wasa crackers with cashew butter
For a savory snack, how about:
- Whole wheat tortilla shell filled with canned beans and salsa
- Mini bagel topped with canned tuna and sliced tomato or green pepper
SB: All-you-can eat cafeterias can be found on every college camps. What eating strategies can students develop to resist from grabbing hamburgers, French fries, ice cream, and brownies every day?
MD: First of all, eat throughout the day to avoid being overly hungry when you arrive at the dining hall. This means eating something roughly every 4 hrs beginning with breakfast. Between meals, snack on a small handful of nuts, yogurt or fresh fruit (taken from the dining hall, of course).
Once you arrive at the dining hall, take a look at the menu before you go through the cafeteria line so you’re prepared to order a healthy meal. Many schools now post menus on their website and include nutrition information to help students make healthier choices.
Do a quick walk-through of all the foods available and then proceed to grab your tray. Notice how many different sizes of plates, bowls and utensils are offered. Always opt for the smaller size. This will limit your portions while making you feel like you’re eating a full plate of food.
Now, I do actually have a strategy for all you can eat dining. It goes like this: try to fill half your plate with non-starchy vegetables (like broccoli, tomato, asparagus, peppers, onions) and fruits. Fill one-quarter of the plate with lean protein (meat, beans, legumes, nuts, dairy) and the remaining one-quarter with grains or starchy vegetables (such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, corn).
By doing this your meal will consist mostly of fruits & vegetables, which are low in fat and calories while high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Remember to be creative!
Sometimes creating a healthy meal can be somewhat of a scavenger hunt, so be prepared to combine foods from different stations into a balanced meal. For example, if your school offers a grill station, have them prepare a grilled chicken breast or veggie burger, then carry that over to top your salad for some lean protein. Mix steamed vegetables from the hot bar into your pasta sauce for an added boost of fiber.
As far as the junk food you mentioned, I prefer to refer to them as “treats,” as they can be a part of healthy diet, but should be limited. Allow yourself to enjoy the items mentioned at one to two meals per week. This way they are kept in moderation without making you feel deprived.
SB: A lot of guys really get into working out and the gym in college. What would you say to one
who asks you whether or not he should go to GNC and start loading up on creatine and protein shakes?
MD: Oh, I have so many cases just like this one! Please stay out of GNC, there’s nothing nutritious about that place!
The first thing I’d do is look at his diet and find out if he is getting enough protein, which more than likely, he is.
When you consider that that protein needs are generally 0.8-1.0 g/kg of body weight, it’s not hard to see why most Americans consume too much protein, not too little. Once you realize that a 4 oz breast of chicken contains 35g of protein, one 8 oz glass of milk contains 9g, most people start to realize that they really can meet their protein needs by diet alone, making protein supplements unnecessary.
Since the body cannot store excess protein, the unused portion is excreted in the urine once the excess calories have been absorbed. Digesting excess protein overworks the kidneys and when done for a long period of time, can lead to decreased kidney function.
I find creatine in particular to be a huge waste of money. It retains water in the body, so muscles may appear larger, when in reality they’re just swollen with fluid. Creatine has not been shown to improve athletic performance and has no impact on actual muscle mass.
Plus, it’s effects over the long term are not known and as a nutritionist, this makes me worry when so many students report using this supplement.
Unfortunately, creatine and protein shakes are big money makers with a great marketing team. To stop people from spending their money on these products, everyone needs to understand that the only way to increase muscle mass is by consuming more total calories and spending more time weight training. It’s that simple.
Extra protein will not lead to muscle growth. In fact, without proper exercise it will only lead to adipose tissue (fat) growth and, judging from the students I work with, that’s the last thing anyone wants.
SB: In your experience, what are some common nutrition issues that tend to come up for college freshmen?
MD: Freshman year is such an interesting and exciting time. For many students, going away to college is the first time in their lives that they have to make their own decisions regarding their diet. Not only are they choosing what they will eat, but when they will eat it, where it will come from and how much they will consume.
In high school, many students live with family members who control their access to food and attend schools with set lunch times and menu offerings. They also have a set schedule between class, jobs, extra-curricular activities so high school days are often filled up.
When students begin college, that schedule is turned upside down. There are often large breaks between classes or, sometimes, no break at all. All time management decisions are put on the student, which can result in over-eating from boredom and stress to undernourishment from not know what food choices to make and where to fit eating into the daily routine.
Some of the most common issues I see are dehydration, stress and emotional eating, fatigue often due to lack of proper nourishment, skipping of meals, and extremely low fiber, fruit and vegetable intake and lack of physical activity.
So many of these issues can be addressed by planning ahead. For all students, I suggest putting those back-packs to use and carrying a bottle of water (to be replenished throughout the day) and at least one snack at all times, such as a piece of fruit or a high fiber granola bar.
Set small goals to drink the water, such as ‘by the end of my 10 AM class, I will have emptied this bottle’ and so on. To ensure that physical activity is not neglected when the demands of school go into full force, schedule workout into your week aiming for at least 30 minutes of physical activity four times per week.
This can be as simple as extended walks around campus with new friends. Not only will it help to prevent the infamous freshman fifteen, it will also provide much needed opportunities to de-stress.
For overeating due to stress and emotions, I suggest thinking of ways to deal with such feelings that do not involve eating. Perhaps writing e-mails to friends back home, practicing yoga, keeping a journal, exploring the campus or reading a new book – for pleasure, not for class!
When eating, remember to listen to your body. Eat when you feel hungry and stop when you feel full. Just because the dining hall is all you can eat, does not mean that you should eat more than you can comfortable handle.
SB: Some students have never cooked before going to college. For those who have kitchens in their dorms, what would you suggest as quick meals or snacks they can make without having to turn on an oven or frying pan?
MD: Use that microwave! Burritos are quite easy and cheap. I like to fill them with fresh vegetables, salsa, low-fat cheese, fat free sour cream or plain greek yogurt, beans or Morning Star farms “Grounds” (a great vegetarian soy-based beef substitute which is great in the microwave). The same ingredients can be used to make quesadillas in the microwave.
Stock up on frozen vegetables and steam them in the microwave. Simply put them in a bowl with a small amount of water, cover with a paper towel, heat and voila! I think steamed broccoli spears are make for a very tasty snack.
If you’re willing to boiling a pot of water, whole wheat pasta or Shirataki tofu noodles are highly nutritious.
Serve either topped with bottled marinara sauce or make your own using canned stewed tomatoes, tomato paste, dried basil and oregano. Mix in some canned beans and perhaps some spinach and you’re in for treat. Serve with a salad for a great, high fiber meal.
There are some great brown rice products that can be made in the microwave. Top them with beans or vegetarian chili, made as follows:
1 can diced tomatoes with juice
½ c water
¼ c TVP (texturized vegetable protein)
½ can beans
1 1/2 Tbsp chili powder (or more if you like it hot)
½ can corn.
Microwave until heated through, about 4 minutes.
Baked potatoes do very well in the microwave. Simply wash, poke several holes in them (this is the fun part) and cook. For small potatoes, about 4 min, for larger baking potatoes, about 7 min. Turn them mid-way through cooking. Split them open and top with chili (above), salsa, or 1 Tbsp olive oil and steamed vegetables.
Super easy salsa: Mix 1 can of black beans, one can of corn, 1 diced green pepper, 1 diced tomato and ½ an onion, diced in a bowl. Dip in corn chips and enjoy!
Tuna salad can be made using 1 can tuna (packed in water), ¼ c diced water chestnuts, ¼ c diced green pepper, 1 Tbsp diced onion, 1 tsp dijon mustard, 2 Tbsp Nayonaisse (a mayo substitute available in most grocery stores). Serve on bread or crackers or roll into a leaf of romaine lettuce.
Fruit parfait: fresh fruit slices (or you can use frozen fruits defrosted in the microwave) in plain yogurt flavored with 1 tsp all fruit preserves or honey. Mix in ¼ c of Kashi Go Lean Crunch Cereal and 1 tsp ground flax seed
SB: Many college students are on limited budgets, which greatly affects their food shopping decisions. What advice can you share with someone who is strapped for cash but does not want to eat greasy Chinese takeout night after night?
MD: Greasy take out can add up in dollars and on your waistline! I find it can be much more healthy and cost effective to prepare your own food.
Anyone who is strapped for cash yet wants great fresh foods should shop at their local farmer’s market. Here you can find the highest quality, best tasting produce available for great prices – and your supporting local agriculture.
One tip here is to shop at the end of the day, usually 5-6 pm, when farmers are preparing to leave. This is when you can get the absolute best deals.
Eat fresh foods seasonally. If you want a strawberry in December, it’s going to cost you quite a bit – and it probably won’t taste that great. By waiting until strawberry season (May – August) you’ll be able to buy pints of delicious berries and a much lower cost.
During winter months, turn to fruits like citrus and apples or rely on frozen items. If you have access to a freezer, stocking up on frozen produce can save you a bundle. These foods are picked at the peak of ripeness and immediately frozen, bringing a high quality product to your table at a low cost.
Buy foods in their whole form. Yes, this will take some extra time and effort on your part, but the cost difference, and often the taste difference, is well worth it.
For example, it is much cheaper to buy whole carrots and peel them yourself than to buy baby carrots. Likewise, a bag of dried beans is far more cost effective than canned and ready eat varieties. Just be sure that you can soak them overnight and boil them prior to eating.
Buy in bulk. If you find yourself liking items such as granola bars and cereal, you can often stock up buy ordering them on-line straight from the manufacturer at about half the price.
Get to know the neighborhood. One store may have great prices on cereal while the store across the street has low priced yogurt. And as an added bonus, you get a little physical activity by walking to both!
Always make a list before going food shopping. Consult recipes and plan out your meals and snacks for the week so that you only have to shop once. Budget out the shopping list and estimate the total cost. Only carry a set amount of cash to the store so that you will stick to your list and not be tempted to buy other items. Just make sure you stick to that list and don’t forgo your planned items for that two for $5 ice cream special!
If you are going to do take-out, combine restaurant meals with homemade items. For example, if you and a friend are really in the mood for Thai food, order one take-out entrée, split it and serve it with steamed vegetables or a salad. You’ll save money and calories.
In fact, if you are really looking for a deal, many restaurants offer early-order specials, such as a list of entrees for half price when ordered before a certain time. Go ahead and order early to get the discount then store the food in the fridge until you’re ready to eat it later – along with more vegetables.
A big thank you to Mary Dye for her time and exhaustive answers!