College students balancing school and work, family and friends and church and class obligations often find themselves making the choice between fast food and no food when it comes to their lunch and dinner.
Caroline Carter is one such student who, between her schooling, internship and job, often finds herself eating fast food or nothing at all.
“My first classes start at seven, and I often don’t get home until well past dinner so I don’t really have time to make anything,” Carter said. “I usually just stop by somewhere as I’m driving, or sometimes I get so busy that I forget to eat.”
The food choices and eating habits many college students make can negatively impact their well-being.
Lora Beth Brown, professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science, explains the negative effects of not eating and of eating poorly.
Brown said that students don’t understand what they’re doing to their bodies when they skip meals or eat poorly.
“The consequences are in a very different time frame,” Brown said. “Short term, for skipping meals, is low blood sugar, and you won’t function very well. The better thing to do is eat something than to fast for a little while. Even if that something isn’t the healthiest option.”
On the other hand, eating poorly often results in health damage.
“Long term, for repeatedly eating stupidly over months and years, is decreased health,” Brown said. “Students often ignore these side effects because they are not immediate.”
One factor contributing to student’s poor eating habits is the feeling that the time and effort needed to produced a healthy, well-balanced meal is too overwhelming. However, Brown believes meals don’t have to be perfect.
“Every meal doesn’t have to be perfectly balanced, but if you can average them over the week, the benefits will be much better in the long run,” Brown said.
Brown suggested choosemyplate.gov as a good source for tips to help students plan and track what they eat.
Pauline Williams, professor of nutrition, dietetics and food science, believes that instead of choosing between eating poorly and not eating, the better option is simply to make the right choices. As part of this, Williams shares four tips to help improve eating habits overall.
“Don’t make a choice between bad food or not eating,” Williams said. “Both of these options, day after day, are bad for you. However, having a burger every now and then isn’t bad. You can’t lump all bad, all good when it comes to fast food and food choices. It’s up to the person to choose what choices they are making.”
1. Eat breakfast
“It’s a great start to a day, and studies done on children show that children who eat breakfast score higher on tests,” Williams said.
Breakfast can be anything from cold cereal, milk and a banana to a bag of dry cereal to munch in class or a smoothie prepared the night before.
2. Plan meals
“Know what you’re going to have for lunch and know what you’re going to have for dinner,” Williams said. “This will keep you from getting in a bind, you’ll always have something to eat.”
Williams also emphasized preparation for what to eat while at school and suggested carrying an apple, string cheese, carrots, yogurts or simply picking a healthy option at the Cougareat as ways to stay healthy while on the run.
3. Eat more fruits and vegetables.
“Eat a wide variety,” Williams said. “Ask yourself what colors can I get.”
As part of this, try to include a fruit or vegetable with every meal, whether it’s veggies on a sandwich or on the side. Anything works as long as it’s there.
4. Plan to eat meals with family and friends.
“Not only do you have the social aspect, but these meals usually have healthier aspects as well,” Williams said. “When planning out a meal for family and friends, students tend to include different food groups as part of the meal and they’re sitting down to eat and taking time to enjoy their meals rather than just grabbing something on the run.”