High school graduation is almost here and I find myself running a checklist in my mind about my daughter’s skills in the kitchen and knowledge of nutrition. Does she know everything she needs to know about college nutrition?
No, I’m not worried about which classes she’ll take in college, or whether she’ll get along with a new roommate she’s never met.
As college looms on the horizon, I find myself thinking about whether she can manage her eating. Whether my lessons about balanced nutrition have taken hold. Whether she has the skills to feed herself food that will keep her healthy, support her learning, and fend off illness.
Did I teach her enough about food, nutrition and cooking?
“Do you know how to make eggs?” I asked the other day. “Yes, mom,” she said.
“How about oatmeal, grilled cheese, and chicken stir fry?”
“Yes,” she said.
“You know I don’t like rice,” she replied.
“Oh, yeah,” I said.
“You don’t have to get fancy. A sandwich and soup, or a bowl of brown rice with beans or veggies works,” I reminded her, “Even a salad with some protein on top will do.”
There’s so much to know!
As a registered dietitian and mom, I get asked about how to help college students who have gained too much weight at school, or who are prepping to leave but afraid of gaining too much weight. While there are many reasons for the Freshman 15 (which studies show is really more like the Freshman 8), such as late night eating, lack of regular exercise, and the uptick in alcohol intake, I have always felt that part of the reason teens gain weight during their first year of college is because they don’t really know how to feed themselves. After all, many teens have had someone else take care of that for them for a long time! And, the newfound freedom with eating doesn’t help the situation.
As I transition over to mom of a college student, here are a few things I want my budding college student to know before she hits campus:
- Focus on food groups and work in as many as possible at each meal. They are: grains (preferably whole grain versions), dairy (or dairy substitute), protein, fruit and vegetables. These should make up 90% of what is eaten everyday.
- Quality counts. When deviating from a healthy diet (which will inevitably happen), make sure the choice reflects quality instead of quantity, and make sure it’s satisfying and worth it.
- Eat with a schedule in mind. This keeps appetite in check and helps to prevent extreme hunger and overeating. Aim for 3-5 hour intervals between meals.
- Know how to cook or assemble a few easy nutritious meals such as eggs (hard-boiled, scrambled); quesadillas; grilled sandwiches; soup and salad; and more! There are many healthy options available now that just require a zap in the microwave, and are much healthier for the college student than snacking on chips, crackers or popcorn.
- Alcohol has calories. Count on them.
- Move more than you think you need to. Walking around campus probably won’t be enough to counter-balance the extra food and drink indulgences college students will inevitably partake in. Encourage an exercise routine.
Yes, I have nagging thoughts, especially this one: I wonder if I taught my teen how to survive without me.
After all, I won’t be preparing her food. I won’t be assuring a balanced meal is served. I won’t be there to set the structure of meals in place. I won’t be the sounding board should she have questions about what to eat, how to cook something new, or when to slow down and take care of herself.
She will be doing it all by her big self.
What would you like your college student to know about nutrition before he or she leaves the nest?