Self-Care Tips: Nourish Well

Self-Care for the college student looking to stay healthy while at UTC.

Some students here at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga will find staying healthy in college is a little harder to do—whether you’re living at home, in your first apartment or on campus.

male student pulls pan out of an oven in the kitchen lab

Nourish Well

Nutrition Basics for College Students

Good nutrition is important for living a healthy life now and in the future. Even if weight is not a concern, overall poor nutrition habits are linked to negative future health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, hypertension, diabetes, osteoporosis, iron deficiency anemia, and certain cancers.  Overall, poor nutrition can greatly impact your daily well-being in terms of feeling your best physically and mentally. Without proper nutrition, your body does not run efficiently and you are more prone to feeling lethargic, depressed and physically ill.

Unfortunately, nutrition advice is often misleading and confusing. This can make it especially difficult for college students to learn to eat healthy while on their own for the first time. Other factors that can contribute to a less than ideal eating pattern for college students include busy class and activity schedules, living in a new environment, and peer pressure to be thin.

Understanding Recommended Daily Intake (Ages 19-30)

Calorie and portion size requirements actually vary widely between people of different genders, ages, and activity levels. An NFL linebacker should eat 3,500 calories on game day, but a college sophomore slumped over a term paper might only need half of that. Even in less dramatic comparisons, the difference in how much people should eat is still surprisingly wide: among 19-30 year-olds, for example, the recommended daily intake between men and women differs by nearly 20%.

College students should try to eat two-and-a-half to three cups of veggies and about two cups of fruit per day, throughout the day. Don't let the amount intimidate you; this is equal to 12 baby carrot sticks, a decently sized salad, and two small pieces of fruit. You can also add veggies and fruits to salads or sandwiches. It's important to remember that produce contains more bulk and fiber in its raw form; cooked veggies can be just as healthy to eat, but you'll need to eat more of them to meet your daily target.

grpahic depicts the various utritional needs of men vs women

Try following these nutrition tips to reap the benefits of a healthier lifestyle while at college

  • Start your day with a healthy breakfast. As it turns out, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day. Avoid the temptation to rush out the door on an empty stomach by planning ahead. Stock up on healthy ingredients that make quick meals, and prioritize protein to keep you full. Three examples of healthy breakfasts are:
    • Eggs, whole wheat toast, and fruit
    • Protein shakes
    • Greek yogurt with granola and berries
  • Snack often. It may seem counterintuitive, but nutritionists encourage snacking in small portions throughout the day to manage your appetite. They recommend eating every two to four hours to control hunger, avoid overeating at mealtime, and prevent weight gain.
  • Keep healthy snacks on hand. Not all snacks are created equal. That’s why it’s important to keep healthy, energy-boosting snacks in your dorm, backpack, and other easily accessible locations. If you can keep them fresh, fruits and vegetables are always great options. But string cheese, yogurt, and heart-healthy nuts also are convenient and help keep you full and energized.
  • Stay active. Walk to class, join a gym, or find a group of friends to hold you accountable for staying active. Exercise not only will help you avoid the freshman 15, but also is proven to lower stress levels, boost mood, and improve sleep.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Most doctors recommend a minimum of seven hours of sleep per night. Studies show we’re more likely to reach for unhealthy snacks when sleep-deprived, and less likely to muster the energy for exercise, according to the National Institutes of Health. Try not to make a habit of pulling all-nighters. Instead, plan ahead and carve out plenty of time to study for upcoming exams. Establish a solid bedtime routine, and make sleep a priority for optimal health.
  • Go easy on the caffeine. Late nights and early mornings can lead to caffeine overconsumption. But too much caffeine can cause insomnia and other problems that wreak havoc on your diet and health. Try to limit yourself to one or two cups of coffee per day, and remember that caffeine comes in forms other than coffee — like teas, sodas, and chocolate.
  • Practice moderation. Eating well and avoiding weight gain doesn’t mean you have to give up all of your favorite treats. Diets for college students still can include the occasional slice of pizza — just be mindful of your portions and practice moderation when eating sugary snacks, fried foods, and other indulgences. Allowing yourself to enjoy a small treat every now and then may help ward off binge-eating and other unhealthy eating behaviors.

Eating Well on a Budget

Most college students operate on a tight budget. Kitchens in residence halls lack the extra equipment that makes cooking easy, things like mixers, toasters, blenders, or electric skillets. Regardless, students can still keep some food on hand that can be quickly prepare into a healthy meal.

Planning meals in advance can save time and money. Avoid expensive ingredients that will not be used more than once, and plan to use all fresh produce you buy before it spoils. Consider a schedule as you plan, and select a mix of very simple and fun recipes. Prepare larger dishes and plan to eat the leftovers later in the week or consider doing all of the cooking during a free time period, such as on the weekend, and reheat food as necessary.

Whichever cooking routine suits you best, strategize your shopping and make a list after you've chosen your recipes. As you shop, stick to that list and avoid impulse purchases. Organize your shopping list by meal.

  • Breakfast: Cereal, oatmeal, yogurt, fruit, whole-wheat bagels
  • Lunch: Sandwich ingredients, whole-grain bread, fruit. Take other cooking into account and plan to pack lunches with leftovers repurposed into salads and sandwiches.
  • Entrées: Fresh or frozen veggies, boxed rice, pasta side dishes and protein sources. Individually bag protein (chicken breasts, fish filets or ground beef servings), then freeze. Form ground beef into patties and freeze.
  • Snack foods: Popcorn, chips and salsa, hardboiled eggs, baby carrots and ranch dressing, brownies from a mix

Other strategies for shopping on a budget include shopping around the edges of the grocery store. Essentials like fresh produce, dairy, and meats are always against the walls, and interior aisles are filled with processed food. For the more expensive items, like spices and salad dressings, purchase one during each shopping trip until you have a variety to choose from. In addition to planned meals, keep salad greens and cheeses on hand when possible; most leftover meats or fish can be made into a salad with some crumbled cheese and fresh vegetables.