For many students, university marks the first step away from the comforts of home, and a whole new world of responsibilities that can divert attention away from healthy habits.
To help students stay on track, Melissa Baker, manager of nutrition and wellbeing with UBC student housing and hospitality (currently on secondment with UBC HR to promote workplace wellbeing), shares her tips for maintaining a healthy lifestyle—even on a student budget.
1. Learn some kitchen skills before you arrive
If you’re a parent of a child leaving home for the first time in the next few years, start involving them in shopping for food and preparing the family meals. That way, when they do move out on their own, they’ll have the skills to make quick and healthy meals for themselves. The earlier you get your kids in the kitchen, the better. Kids can start helping with meals as early as 18 months to 2 years old (visit www.unlockfood.ca for ideas)—and they’ll be pros by the time they’re off to university!
2. Sign up for grocery store tours
UBC dietitians run a program that offers free guided grocery store tours for students. The tours cover nutrition, eating on a budget, and tips on healthy eating and food planning. Visit food.ubc.ca/groceries/ for details and to sign up.
3. Don’t assume plant-based foods are healthier
Plant-based meat substitutes, like the Beyond Burger, are getting a lot of attention, but they aren’t necessarily a healthier option. In fact, they’re a very processed food. If you’re wanting to maximize your nutrition, you’re better off eating plant-based foods that are closer to their original form, such as tempeh, beans, lentils, nuts and seeds, and tofu.
4. Eat (the right) carbs
Low-carb and keto diets are very trendy, but carbs (glucose) are the brain’s preferred fuel. Just make sure you’re choosing whole-grains (such as whole-wheat bread, bulgur, oatmeal, brown rice, quinoa, etc.) over refined grains (such as white bread and pasta, jasmine rice, etc.). A bowl of white rice is not going to keep you full for very long. When you’re studying and running around all day, whole-grains are really going to keep you going. They’ll give you the fibre and vitamins and minerals that you need, and keep you feeling full for longer.
5. Avoid sugar-filled beverages
Everyone knows pop is full of sugar—but so are energy drinks and fruit juices, even though they have a “health halo.” Energy drinks have a lot of questionable ingredients, and there is a lot of evidence now that fruit juice is not a healthy option, especially compared to fresh fruit. Even pre-packaged smoothie drinks are often loaded with sugars, sometimes disguised as fruit concentrates. To satisfy your pop cravings, try flavoured sparkling water, and substitute energy drinks with unsweetened iced tea. If you really want something a little sweeter, try diluting a third of a cup of fruit juice with some bubbly water.
6. Carry a water bottle
Don’t assume every meal you order out has to include a beverage. Remember that tap water is free, healthy and safe to drink! Carry a water bottle with you, and you’ll not only save money, you’ll also be reducing your sugar intake and your environmental footprint. Learn more about UBC’s Healthy Beverage Initiative and the UBC Drinks Tap Water campaign at wellbeing.ubc.ca.
7. Make exercise and food prep part of your social time
Organize study breaks and socializing around physical activities and food preparation. Go for a walk or jog together, explore the local forest trails, or spend some time together doing meal prep. Not only will it make those activities more fun, you’ll give your brain a nice break. You can find make-ahead snack and meal ideas at food.ubc.ca/11-prep-day-ideas/.
8. Embrace whole-food meat alternatives
Items like beans, lentils and tofu are generally a lot cheaper than meat. If you haven’t cooked with them much before they might not seem appealing, but keep an eye out for on-campus cooking workshops to learn how to use them in meals. UBC Farm, Roots on the Roof and Sprouts are just some of the places that offer a variety of food workshops. If you live in residence, encourage your RA to plan a cooking class—the dietitians at UBC Food Services can help! You can find them at food.ubc.ca/nutrition/
9. Don’t skimp on sleep
Prioritize your sleep and don’t pull all-nighters. A lack of quality sleep can increase your cravings for carbohydrate-rich foods and enhance your appetite, as well as put you at higher risk for metabolic disorders. If you take breaks and make time to recharge, you’ll find you can focus more when you are studying—and you’ll probably retain more knowledge than students who stay up all night cramming.
10. Practice mindful eating
Put away your phone when eating and focus on your meal. This will help you tune into how your body is actually feeling and when you’ve had enough to eat. Too many people are lost in their phones and not paying attention to their food. Chew your food well, reduce your distractions, and use meal times to chat and connect with your friends.
11. Don’t get hung up on weight
Health is not solely dependent on your body weight. People with a so-called “ideal body weight” aren’t necessarily healthier than someone who is not in the “ideal” range. If you want to be healthy, focus more on moving your body in ways you enjoy and eating a variety of nutrient-rich foods, and less on the numbers on a scale.
12. Shop and cook with friends
Take advantage of bulk pricing by shopping with friends and splitting the items—and check out the bulk section of stores for cheaper options of staples such as brown rice, whole-grain pasta and nuts. When it comes to meals, take turns preparing them for the group, and teach each other recipes to expand your skills.