Written by Haley Brucato Photos by Nelson Estrada
Constant snacks for late night study sessions and a quick slice after a night at the bar can easily be the cause of steady weight gain in college. It’s time to stop using money as an excuse for daily junk eating. Low-cost healthy alternatives are out there, and easily accessible for on-the-go students who balance work, internships, classes and a social life.
When students find themselves constantly saying “Tomorrow is time to eat healthier and finally lose this weight,” but can’t resist the urges, it’s time to consider other options. Physical and mental health won’t improve unless students truly start paying attention to their nutritional habits.
Ashley Hathaway, a certified nutritional therapist and Gut and Psychology Syndrome practitioner in San Francisco, believes that students on a tight budget are still capable of buying nutritional foods that won’t break the bank. Hathaway stresses that the budget conscious focus on quality versus quantity. Many students tend to grab things that are immediately satisfying to eat in the moment, like a donut or cup of coffee in the morning, but, according to Hathaway, they are only putting their money towards empty calories.
“They get a jolt from that,” explains Hathaway. “But later get quickly hungry because the body hasn’t truly been nourished.”
Instead of wasting money on food that won’t satisfy hunger for a long period of time, it makes more sense to buy a banana instead of the donut. Don’t skip the coffee, just include some half and half or a type of cream; it adds saturated fat, some carbohydrates, and healthy sugars. First and foremost, students must change their mindset when walking to the nearest cafe or coffee shop on the way to class.
“The most common problems I see with students are fatigue and stress,” Hathaway explains. “The body is constantly drained from the overproduction of stress hormones on a regular basis, and lack of sleep coupled with not eating right can really affect your productivity.”
For a midday snack, avoid the potato chips. Instead, buy a bag of walnuts or almonds. Keep in mind, there is no need to eat the whole bag – a handful is more than enough to hold the hungry over until lunch. Nuts are a good energy food with healthy fats that will satisfy stomachs far longer than empty calories will.
“It’s really about looking at your lifestyle and making small adjustments over time and to learn how to live accordingly,” Hathaway emphasizes. “You don’t think about how much your whole body suffers from the toxins you put in your body. It all contributes to fatigue, lack of concentration and headaches.”
Often, students don’t have the time nor energy to cook three meals a day – but there is a solution. Cook large meals so leftovers will last for several days. Get the roommates together for a shopping day, buy food in bulk, cook huge portions, bag it up, and throw it in the freezer – that provides meals for a week, according to Deborah Riordan, an experienced health practitioner. She also stresses the importance of eating between classes and suggests investing in a thermos or two.
“You might not think so, but they’re the best investment,” she laughs. “You can make good soups which are much easier to digest than cold foods, and especially satisfying with the foggy climate. They provide warmth and nourishment, with a good mixture of starch and vegetables.”
The farmer’s market at San Francisco State University every Thursday provides inexpensive, healthy, organic produce. Riordan suggests checking “The Dirty Dozen,” a list of the top 12 produce with the most pesticide residue. She believes students don’t need to buy all organic.
“Buy organic for what really matters, avoid high pesticide foods and the rest can be bought from a normal grocery store.”
Brian Trief, an avid cyclist and health maestro, is familiar with shopping healthy on a college budget. The slender 22-year-old suggests that purchasing fresh salad ingredients in bulk is the path to take – not only will it fill you up fast, but it’ll last a lot longer than prepackaged salad mixes. He agrees that making the right eating choices is all about a proper mindset, because he has noticed that wherever you eat out nowadays, the food will generally be the same price.
“Chipotle is around $10 for a burrito and a drink, and getting a nice meal at a restaurant will be between $12-$13,” he explains. “Even at McDonald’s a chicken sandwich, fries, and a drink will be $8, so it’s just about making the smart choice.”
From Trief’s experience, eating on campus is the best bet. Students can get filling meals for five dollars – whether it be a veggie burrito or a fresh salad. Other easy pre-made meals to get between classes?
“Any kind of fish,” the curly-haired brunette says, pushing his thick lenses back up the bridge of his nose. “It has really good omega-3 fatty acids which helps your heart, liver, and blood stream.”
These creatures of the sea don’t taste half bad, either. Especially rolled up into some delicious emerald seaweed strips.
Angela Trinh owns PowerSource Cafe, a primarily organic business that makes fresh foods from scratch. In college, Trinh faced the same problem most do – no time and no cash.
“Keep your freezers stacked with frozen fruits and veggies,” Trinh advises. “You can make a quick smoothie or cut up carrot and celery sticks, make hard-boiled eggs, put oatmeal in a bunch of small containers so breakfast is ready, and keep stocked up on yogurt to eat as a snack. Pretty much anything you can prepare yourself and throw in the fridge for later is most ideal for maintaining a good diet.”
What it is really about is finding the time to make food and not getting to a point where hunger reigns supreme and anything will do. Often, students end up making worse decisions and buying something unhealthy and pre-made. It can be surprising how much eating out truly adds up, so track a week’s worth of spending and reevaluate what meals to splurge on.