You’ve got the diploma, you’ve received the acceptance letter, you’ve chosen your major, and you’ve bid farewell to the home where you grew up. Now it is time for the real world (kind of). After orientation and settling in, you may find that you’re experiencing opportunities for life lessons at every turn…including how to feed yourself. Food, the foundation for an optimally functioning mind and body as you fill your sleep-deprived brain with all the 101 basics, is now something you have to potentially plan, budget, and shop for. Whether or not you are enrolled in a meal plan on campus, these tips for healthy dorm cooking on a budget and with limited culinary resources can be helpful. It is important to maintain a balanced diet while incorporating quality among all of the food groups: fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, fat-free dairy, and whole grains. According to the dietary guidelines for Americans, meals should have three of the five food groups, and snacks should be composed of a protein and a carbohydrate food.
Balanced diets should include about 2 cups of fruit daily. You can achieve this through fresh, packaged, dried, 100% juice, or frozen fruits, meaning it’s fairly easy to find foods that can be stored in your dorm room minifridge/freezer or on a shelf or cabinet. Apples, applesauce, banana, grapefruit, oranges, peaches, and dried fruit can be stored at room temperature without issue. Other fruits like strawberries, blueberries, plums, and melons can be stored in the minifridge. Whether they are fresh or packaged, most fruits have the added benefit that they are portable, so you can throw them in your bag or purse when planning to be away from your dorm. Some ways to enjoy fruits:
- Applesauce pouches that have the twist off cap do not require a spoon and will not spoil as quickly as a fresh apple. They come in regular and other flavors like strawberry, blueberry, and cinnamon.
- 4oz (half cup) containers of mandarin oranges, peaches, and fruit cocktail are portable and refreshing. Since these are packaged in fruit juice (or water-for less calories from sugar) it is possible to drink these directly from the container, or you can pack a spoon and enjoy them the traditional way.
- Dried fruits (and some fresh fruits, too) such as mangos, cranberries, prunes, raisins, etc., can be eaten as a snack alone or they can be added into things like oatmeal, yogurt and even tuna or chicken salad to add sweet flavor and added fiber.
- Freeze dried fruits like strawberries can be yummy and are a light and shelf-stable snack to be reached for when you’re on the go.
For veggie intake, aim for around 3 cups daily. Like fruits, veggies count in all forms, including frozen and 100% juices. Most veggies need to be refrigerated in their fresh forms, so save space! When shopping, you may want to look for (low sodium) canned vegetables that you enjoy. Add these as side items to round out your meals or add a chopped refrigerated veggie to a snack and pair that with a protein food to quench the hunger.
- Pack cut veggies in disposable or reusable plastic bags alongside pre-portioned cups of dip like salad dressing, peanut butter, or hummus. You don’t have to eat vegies plain!
- Buy pre-seasoned, microwavable frozen veggies. It’s a super easy way to add a serving to any meal.
- Adding veggies like lettuce and tomato to wraps or sandwiches can increase your intake of healthy vegetables. Choose kale, spinach, and romaine over iceberg as they contain higher levels of minerals and fat-soluble vitamins.
Protein can be found in all sorts of dorm-friendly foods like milk/soy milk, lunch meat, canned meats/fish, canned beans and peas, cheese, yogurt, hard-boiled eggs peanut butter, and protein supplement drinks. It is recommended that you get 5 ½ to 6 ½ ounces daily and that dairy foods are fat-free or low in fat. In general, one ounce serving equals one ounce of meat, poultry, or fish, ¼ cup cooked beans, 1 egg, 1 tablespoon of peanut butter, or ½ ounce of nuts/seeds.
- Milk, yogurt, hard boiled eggs, lunch meat, and cheese all need refrigeration. If you don’t have space for all of them each week, try varying up your routine each grocery trip and select them in rotations.
- Sandwiches and wraps should be selected using products that are made with whole grains as their first ingredient for added protein and fiber, too. You can make these with peanut butter, lunch meat, and hummus as a spread with lunch meats.
- Tuna and chicken come in convenient and portable pouches/cans that are easy open and only require a spoon. They come in a variety of flavors and are quite delicious. Eat these straight out of the packet/can or mix in with other condiments, put on a wrap or sandwich, or add dried cranberries to increase fiber and flavor.
- Protein supplements are a convenient and nutrient dense way to get nutrients on the run. Often, they don’t require refrigeration, though they are best served chilled. You can purchase prepackaged or make your own using powder and blending it with fat-free milk or soymilk. You’ll just need a shaker bottle that blends well. These come in a variety of flavors and are available at your grocery store. Be mindful that over-relying on these can lead to not eating enough fruits and veggies, so remember to mix it up.
Pre-packaged convenience meals can offer a convenient, but also healthy, option to making a full meal in a dorm. Look for meals with <750mg sodium, at least 10g protein, and with veggies as a primary ingredient. Bonus points for meals that contain whole grains like whole wheat pasta, quinoa, or brown rice. It’s time to shake the idea that all frozen dinners are loaded with ingredients that aren’t good for you- in fact, the frozen aisle is home to some of the most nutritious foods in the entire grocery store. Use Kroger’s OptUP app to find the healthiest options in this and other aisles of the store.
College is a whole new world offering new and exciting experiences, but remember that it’s also a time and place to set health habits for years to come. Make and establish sound habits that will help you perform at your best now and remain healthy well into the future.
Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.