A Guide to Eating Healthy in College

Students+stretch+during+a+yoga+class+at+the+TAMU-CC+Dugan+Wellness+Center+as+they+strive+to+live+a+healthy+lifestyle+in+college.

Photo courtesy of Reshma Philip.

Students stretch during a yoga class at the TAMU-CC Dugan Wellness Center as they strive to live a healthy lifestyle in college.

“Transitioning from living at home, where mom cooks the meals, to living on campus is a huge adjustment for students. It’s important for students to learn how to maintain a balanced, healthy lifestyle while in college,” stated Dr. Misty Kesterson, the full-time nutrition professor for the TAMU-CC Kinesiology Department. 

Dr. Kesterson’s first tip for eating healthy in college is to eat breakfast. “Students are always busy and tend to forget to eat breakfast, but eating breakfast will help them maintain their energy throughout the day. Some great options are egg whites, protein bars, oatmeal, and yogurt,” Dr. Kesterson stated. 

According to MyPlate, this graphic displays the ideal way to fill a plate with nutritious foods. Healthy meals include a variety of vegetables and fruits, proteins, grains, and dairy or fortified soy alternatives. (Photo courtesy of MyPlate.)

Additionally, Dr. Kesterson believes it’s important for students to know how to properly fill their plates at the dining hall. According to MyPlate, half of the plate should be fruits and vegetables, a quarter of the plate should be healthy grains, and the last quarter should be protein. MyPlate also recommends having a side of dairy. “The dining hall has great healthy options for students, and I suggest they use the MyPlate guidelines when choosing foods. Students should choose bright-colored fruits and vegetables and grilled food options over fried options,” Dr. Kesterson stated. When dining off-campus, Dr. Kesterson recommends ordering from the healthy menu section. 

Planning, preparing, and creativity are key to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, according to Dr. Kesterson. “To avoid skipping meals and grabbing unhealthy fast foods out of convenience, students should prepare meals on their days off and carry healthy snacks with them on the go. I like to pack carrots and ranch and pre-packaged nuts to snack on,” Dr. Kesterson shared. 

As for students who dislike the taste of vegetables, Dr. Kesterson recommends getting creative when cooking. “Trying smoothie recipes and adding garlic or lemon to grilled vegetables are some ways students can experiment and figure out how they like to eat their vegetables,” Dr. Kesterson stated. 

Drinking water and limiting caffeinated and alcoholic beverages is another important aspect of healthy living, in Dr. Kesterson’s opinion. The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine claims that the adequate daily fluid intake is: about 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) of fluids a day for men, and about 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) of fluids a day for women. “Drinking water is essential to the body. If students are eating enough calories, they should ideally have energy and be able to limit the caffeine they need. Limiting alcohol intake is important to overall health too,” Dr. Kesterson explained. 

Along with eating nutritious foods, exercise and sleep are essential to helping students maintain a healthy lifestyle, according to Dr. Kesterson. 

“The Dugan has wonderful exercise classes for students. Staying active in college and sleeping the recommended 7-9 hours per night is very important,” Dr. Kesterson said.

Finally, balance is essential to staying on track with health goals. “It’s important not to become obsessive with healthy eating and exercising. Students have to find balance. The 80/20 rule is a great way to maintain balance by eating healthy 80% of the time and treating yourself 20% of the time,” Dr. Kesterson stated. 

There are many resources to help students live a healthy lifestyle. The Coastal Bend Food Bank provides nutrition classes and a Diabetes Hands-On Self Management Education Program. The Nueces County Texas A&M AgriLife Extension also offers cooking classes. The TAMU-CC Dugan Wellness Center offers free group exercise classes, and qualifying students may book an appointment with Izzy’s Food Pantry to receive free groceries.