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  • Ruth Mayer Silverstein, M.S.

College Fit

This is my eleventh time getting a kid packed and moved into college, and I remember the first time as clearly as today. Of all the many topics that I could write about -- and all of them are equally relevant to the health and well-being of our kids, today's post is focused on the issues around food: new routines and choices, quality (and quantity) of dining hall meals, off-campus options, "liquid calories", exercise, body image, stress and pressure, and the infamous "Freshman 15."

Let's just start right out with the Freshman 15 (or 10 or 20 or more). It's so easy for this to happen. Just walk into any college dining hall and the options and quantities are limitless. This might be perfect for an athlete who is working out daily, but not so much for the rest of our kids. While I know all college dining halls are not created equal, they certainly have a few things in common, such as endless cereal, self-serve ice cream, soda machines, and delicious-looking desserts. They also have salad and sandwich bars, fruit, hot meals and by now, they all have at least some gluten-free options.

Seems like it could be easy (enough) to make good (enough) choices in the dining hall, but so often students are on the run, between classes, meetings, sports practices, rehearsals, jobs, etc. and end up picking up whatever is convenient (but not necessarily healthy) along the way. That slice of pizza, the gyro from the food truck, a double scoop of ice cream - whatever is quick, easy and available, but not exactly brain and body fuel - not to mention the added calories, carbs and chemicals that weigh down our kids' minds and bodies. On the other end of the spectrum are the students (mostly young women), who struggle with stress, pressure and poor body image and fail to eat even enough calories to sustain their bodies and brains - an issue that is not simply solved and should not be ignored.

Of course it wouldn't be college without parties. From a purely caloric perspective, an ounce of 80 proof hard liquor has 64 calories; 80 calories for 100 proof, and don't forget the mixers, beer, munchies, late-night pizza, burgers, etc. that pack on hundreds of extra calories a night...or a football game. But this is just about nutrition -- I'll leave all of the other issues on this subject for another post.

So how can a college student sort all of this out without making themselves crazy or just giving up? Fortunately, there are more and more health-minded students on campuses today and healthy options abound. Many college communities even have farmers' markets on or near campus where students can purchase fresh and local produce. Picking up the exercise frequency and pace is key, which applies to all of us! In fact, I can say with confidence that exercise is not a luxury - it is necessary - and while being at college can often seem crazy busy, it's actually the best time to get into the routine and habit of regular exercise. Walking or biking to class, yoga, boxing, dance, intramural sports, and so much more are available on and near all campuses. If it's not a class, then it's an activity, a plan - some form of exercise. And when you plan for it every day, you're sure to be successful the majority of the week.

Now I know as well as anyone that a mom's advice often lands on deaf ears and eye rolls, so I went right to the experts (college students) to get their top tips for healthy eating at college. Here you go...

  • Just because it's a buffet doesn't mean you have to eat everything you possibly can.

  • Stay away from breakfast pastries - there are other options, such as whole grain cereal, fruit, eggs, oatmeal.

  • Make sure you eat during the day so you don't binge bad food at night.

  • Always have a healthy granola bar with you.

  • The salad bar is your friend!!

  • Keep staples in your dorm room, like peanut butter/almond butter, apples, granola, almond milk, chia seeds, coconut flakes to make smoothie bowls (or shakes if you have a small blender).

  • Check out coffee shops and food co-ops for healthier options.

  • If you don't have easy access to a grocery store and find limited healthy options at the dining halls, there may be delivery services in your area from which to order some staples like fruit, veggies, healthy snacks, etc.

  • If your dorm has a kitchen, you can easily make simple meals like stir-fry or rice and beans.

  • Take apples, grapes, celery, etc. from the dining hall for snacking during the day.

  • Find the closest farmer's market and stock up on fruit and veggies.

  • All dining halls (on the same campus) are not created equal! Switch up your dining hall periodically and find alternatives that work for you.

  • Many schools have food co-ops with organic/vegan options, some of which allow you to work for food.

  • Beware of FREE FOOD EVENTS! They're probably not giving away anything healthy and it just takes a will of steel or extra exercise to compensate!

If anyone (college student or parent) has a question or can use some guidance on this issue, please don't hesitate to contact me - I'm happy to brainstorm some options with you.

Here's to a healthy (and happy, productive, safe, and educational) year!

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