A College Sophomore’s Top Tips For Healthy, Sustainable Eating At College
Editor’s Note: This is Part 2 in a series about Going Green on Campus! The first blog focused on how to honor people, planet and pocketbook in making great choices when living in the dorms. To read the first post, click here.
As someone trying to live a more conscious lifestyle that’s healthy and planet-friendly, moving away to college posed some unique challenges. One of the biggest hurdles was finding ways to eat healthfully. My first year was a challenge because the dining plan was mandatory, but living off-campus – with the allure of quick and easy to-go options – also required some adjustment.
A Dining Plan Doesn’t Mean Doomsday for Healthy Eating
If you are required to be on a dining plan through your college or university, I recommend sticking to basics like the salad bar, steamed veggies, and whole grains. Ask for no sauce or have it on the side. The commercial, bulk sauces that so much of the food is lathered in is typically loaded with chemicals and sodium.
You can use spices or herbs to liven up the salad bar and give repetitive veggies a twist- just tuck a jar in your bag and sprinkle on top once you’ve made your plate. I also grab carrots, celery, and an apple to have in my dorm for a healthy snack with a jar of almond butter.
Enlist the Help of Dining Hall Management and Cooks
If you are really stuck when it comes to finding ways to make eating healthfully work on your meal plan, try talking to the dining team to figure out how they can serve more options that you can eat (they might offer to make you meals that are not offered on the line). Encourage them to provide more local and organic foods on a regular basis as opposed to on occasion. For example, when I got to school I wasn’t thrilled that they didn’t have almond milk available. I asked for it, and with a little bit of persistence, they fulfilled my request for the rest of the year.
Opt for Farmer’s Markets & Bulk Foods
When purchasing food to pack for on-the-go meals, I often visit the farmer’s market on the weekends to increase my consumption of seasonal, local produce. Is there a farmer’s market near you? For other foods, I buy in bulk to reduce waste, bring reusable bags and jars, and buy organic as much as possible.
Consider a Plant-based Diet or Reduce Your Consumption of Meat
I eat a plant-based diet, so by stocking up on legumes and whole grains, I’m able to cut back on expenses and my carbon footprint. Did you know that one pound of beef requires over 2,400 gallons of water and generates 27 kg of carbon emissions?
Even if eating a vegetarian or vegan diet isn’t your thing, you can reduce your consumption by limiting meat to one meal a day, or opting for a totally meat-free diet on certain days of the week. Need inspiration? Join the #MeatlessMonday bandwagon. By searching the hashtag on social media, you’ll find tons of tasty recipes and ideas for meatless alternatives to your favorite foods. If you do buy meat, look for locally raised, organic options where the farmers are focused on the health and welfare of the animals and the land.
Hacks For Food Prep In A Dorm
There are some ways to prepare food in cramped dorm rooms. If your housing association allows it, store a small kitchen knife and mini cutting board in a drawer to cut up fruit and veggies that you take from the dining hall. These can be munched on immediately or put into reusable containers and stowed in a mini fridge. Extra food scraps go into a compost bag that I store in a container and bring to a local collection site on the weekends.
As far as cooking goes, we weren’t allowed to use appliances that generate heat in my dorm room, so the closest to cooking I got was by preparing tea or coffee with a hot water heater. If you want to make instant meals with hot water for when you are really in a pinch, try to keep organic options on hand, such as Annie’s Mac and Cheese Cups or Patagonia Provisions soups and chili options. Both companies favor sustainable food packaging, unlike conventional instant foods like Ramen that is enclosed in Styrofoam.
Takeout Is Trashy!
Many college kids turn to the fast food chain options around grounds once they are no longer on a meal plan, but I prefer to bring my own food so I can have more control over what I am eating and how much waste I am generating.
By preparing my food in advance I cut back on my financial and carbon cost of eating. I also don’t have to buy overpriced snacks or meals from convenience stores on campus that would leave me with a mound of disposable plastic from a cup, straw, lid, wrapper, box, or tray. It’s healthier and helps me reduce my waste.
Regardless of whether you’re on your own in an apartment, living in a dorm, or you’ve been out of college for a decade, healthy and mindful eating requires a little planning and preparation. I hope you find some of these tips helpful!
About the author:
Jamie Wertz is a sophomore at the University of Virginia (UVA) in Charlottesville, VA where she is pursuing a degree in Global Studies (Environments and Sustainability) and Public Policy. She works for the Office for Sustainability at the University of Virginia and with Turning Green, an environmental non-profit inspiring youth to live more sustainably. She loves rock climbing, teaching yoga, cooking, farmer’s markets, and exploring the outdoors.
If you’re interesting in learning more about going green on campus, she encourages students to sign up for Turning Green’s Project Green Challenge, a 30-day eco initiative held every year in October, that helps students to transition from conventional to conscious living.