The school year is well underway and it’s about that time that you’re starting to scramble and get your life organized. When you’re a student this can be especially hard when you’re zipping between one side of campus to the next in 15 minutes or having to plan to spend nearly the entire day on campus. I know when I was a student (and excuse me as I tear up a little bit because I have to talk about my college days in past tense now…) one of the hardest things was trying to figure out my diet. What do I want to have around the house? What’s going to be convenient to bring with me?
I know more than anyone it’s easy to start off the semester with good intentions. But as the school year picks up, it’s not uncommon to fall victim to comfort and convenience foods. In the world of classes, homework, work, having a social life, going to events… it can be hard to get a good routine with your meals and stick to it. But while I was in school, I did come across several foods that became regular purchases and items I consider must-haves to keep around the house.
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FROZEN FRUITS + VEGGIES
I learned in some of my classes that frozen fruits and vegetables are just as nutritious (if not more) than fresh produce. A lot of times frozen produce is grown nationally and is picked when it’s actually ripened, versus fresh produce which is typically grown outside of the country and is harvested early so it’s not overripe by the time it arrives at your grocery store.
The thing I like about frozen produce is that it doesn’t go bad and end up being a waste of money (unless you let it get freezer burned, but that would take a while). Yes, you could buy fresh produce, cut it up, and freeze it yourself, but when you’re already so busy with a million other things, don’t let your fruits and veggies be another thing you have to add to your to-do list. If it feels like a chore, the likelihood of you even trying to bother with fruits and vegetables will likely decrease.
Frozen fruit is great for smoothies or putting in the microwave for about 30-40 seconds to thaw out a little bit if you just want a snack! Make sure you avoid added sugar. When it comes to frozen veggies, try to get them plain instead of the ones that come pre-seasoned or with sauces. Seasoning your vegetables yourself gives you more control over your sodium/caloric intake.
I rant and rave about quinoa all the time. Not only is it loaded with more protein, fiber, antioxidants, and nutrients compared to brown rice, but it’s so much easier to cook. I’ve noticed that I eat significantly less food when my meal includes quinoa instead of rice, and I feel less hungry throughout the day. And it’s gluten free! (Healthline)
WHOLE WHEAT + GRAIN BREAD
If there’s one thing I’ll emphasize, it’s stay away from white/enriched breads. Whole grains will keep you feeling fuller longer and it has more fiber which is good for digestion! I even opt for whole wheat tortillas or bagels… or just about anything that has a whole wheat option.
I love making sure I have some dairy around the apartment – calcium is great for bone health, and studies show that having adequate amounts of calcium in your diet can actually aid with weight loss (Wei 2013). I like to mix in some granola for breakfast or some natural peanut butter for a bedtime snack!
AVOID POTATO CHIPS
Obviously this isn’t a specific item, but I would highly recommend avoiding the chip aisle. When I’m perusing for snacks to have around the apartment, I generally reach for lightly salted popcorn, whole grain versions of crackers (such as Goldfish, Cheese-Itz, and Wheat Thins), and lightly-to-un salted nuts. Every so often I’ll grab some pretzel sticks, too, but they’re usually made with enriched flour which I personally try to stay away from.
If you classify yourself as a serial snacker (like myself), I would recommend limiting the amount of snacks you have on hand. It’s okay to graze throughout the day, but if you tend to find yourself eating half the bag of chips at one time, try keeping only one snack item in your pantry at a time. For me, if I knew I only had one snack to last me the week, I would decrease my serving sizes.
This is probably where half of you leave. But I truly would avoid buying that pack of Oreos or M&M’s and that soda. It’s so much easier to fall victim to poor diets when we make bad foods readily accessible in our homes. And I’m not saying to nix it all together – there are occasions I really just want some peanut butter fudge cookies, so I’ll treat myself every so often. If you want to beat the bloat, the weight gain, and the foggy mind, leave the refined sugar off your grocery list.
Sometimes you have to be careful about reaching for protein/snack bars because even though they are marketed as “healthy,” often times they are still loaded with sugar. Maybe a Clif bar doesn’t have as much sugar as a Snickers, but that doesn’t mean that it still wouldn’t put a huge dent in your sugar intake for the day (and sugar is a huge barrier when it comes to weight loss, among other health problems). Kashi and Kind are my go-to brands that keep me feeling full and don’t contain a ton of sugar.
I like using the app Fooducate for foods like these as a way to compare which of my options are best. You simply scan the bar code and it gives you a letter grade of A+, A, A-, etc, and gives you options of similar foods that might be better. It’s come in handy when it comes to figuring out what to reach for at the grocery store!
Eggs are one of my favorite breakfasts. They have ample amounts of protein and a variety of vitamins and minerals (BBC). What I like about them is that you can make them so many different ways that you won’t necessarily feel like you’re always eating the same meal. You really do want to make sure you’re not getting bored with your diet – we’re driven to eat foods that sound interesting and exciting, so don’t drive yourself to the point of boredom with your eggs (or any food). Switch it up! Add toast or avocado, make a breakfast burrito, hard boil them in advance to have on-the-go… get creative!
Chicken breasts are always a good go-to when it comes to making meals. It’s good for helping control blood pressure, cholesterol, and poses less of a cancer risk compared to red meats like beef and pork (Organic Facts). And it’s great for throwing into a slow cooker before you run off to class for the day.
It’s significantly cheaper and is a good alternative to ground beef. It had a milder flavor but contains less saturated fat and cholesterol. Additionally, it has B vitamins that help with metabolism, heart health, and nerve function; it also contains the mineral selenium which is good for boosting immune function, regulating the thyroid, and helping prevent cell damage (Livestrong).
DARK LEAFY GREENS
Dark leafy greens like spinach and kale are packed with vitamins and minerals, such as Vitamins C & K, iron, and folate. They also contain antioxidants which help reduce cancer risk (University of Kentucky 2013). They’re also good for boosting memory and helping prevent memory loss later in life (Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics, Alzheimer’s).
Now many of you reading this might be living in the dorms, which makes it hard to have a lot of control over meals and refrigerated/freezer items. Before I left for OU, even though I started off living in an apartment, I read Daphne Oz’s The Dorm Room Diet which offered great advice when it came to learning how to navigate cafeterias and how to create compromise when it comes to trying not to cave to guilty pleasures.
Now this next point I’m about to discuss is something I feel very torn about. I am a firm believer in taking advantage of physical activity. Howeverrrrr… I know that as a student you’re probably already meeting that step goal from walking all over campus. And sometimes, grocery shopping is just another chore you have to fit into that crazy schedule. I know when I procrastinated on grocery shopping, that’s when I would cave to eating out the most.
Now that I’m working full time and have a puppy I don’t want to lock up more than necessary, I have recently turned to grocery pickup. It’s good for being able to avoid temptations and impulse buying, and you can also keep a better eye on just how much you’re spending. And if they’re ever out of what you ordered, they’ll upgrade that item at no extra charge to you.
Sign up here to get $10 OFF your first grocery pickup at Walmart!
What are your go-to items at the grocery store? Do y’all have specific items you religiously have on hand? Let The Southern Sooner community know!