The Student’s Guide To Healthy Eating

Obesity. Type II Diabetes. Cancer. Heart Disease. Other than the fact that these can be life threatening diseases if not controlled, what else do they have in common? Individuals who eat unhealthy foods, rather than healthy items, can struggle with these diseases later in life. While these are the more extreme and long-term side effects, they are still easy to prevent.

Even though these horrible diseases can often be avoided, it’s interesting to see that many individuals still suffer from them. While it could be possible they don’t really understand how to prevent them, I think it’s truly related to not understanding how to actually eat healthy. Most of the world understands that it’s important to eat healthy, but it’s way more difficult to understand healthy practices and incorporate them. Most importantly and even more possible, by the time people learn how to truly eat healthy and how to practice it, it might be too late. That’s why it’s important for college students to become educated about the how’s and why’s of healthy eating.

About a month ago I asked students around Western Washington University’s campus to fill out an online survey about their eating habits. Questions revolved around what a typical meal looked like and what they think they could do to eat healthier. For the students that lived off campus, many reported an unsurprisingly unhealthy diet revolving around foods high in sodium or other processed items. In the dining hall, they chose greasy foods like pizza and hamburgers. If they chose not to go to the dining hall for a meal, they relied on microwavable noodles and macaroni and cheese. These meals have little to no nutritional value, but students believe that they are delicious, quick, and easy. Students often chose ease and taste over quality. As unfortunate as it is, many of this stems from students not knowing much about basic nutrition.

Students that move right from home to a dorm are especially affected by this lack of knowledge. At home, a parent or sibling often cooks for them. A student might understand how to cook a few basic things, but they very rarely have to shop for ingredients and cook the meal with no outside help. When they live in a dorm, they switch from having home cooked meals to dining hall food, which is also prepared by someone else. Often, dorms don’t have kitchen space, and if they do they don’t have any cooking utensils. When students want to cook for themselves, they have nowhere to do so. They must strictly rely on the dining hall, outside restaurants, or their microwave. The best way to learn about food and how to cook is by practicing. This reliance on outside sources prevents students from learning what goes into the finished products, and how to prepare something in a healthy way.

Understanding what goes into food and how to cook is only part of the problem. Many students don’t even know what they should be eating. As the survey results show, it’s impossible to eat healthy without understanding what eating healthy truly means. Many individuals are unaware of what they can do to eat healthier. A surprisingly large portion of the surveyed students were unaware of how to properly read a food label. All of this stems from a lack of nutrition education, which is unfortunate because this seems to be an unnecessary problem. In order to help with nutritional education, I’ve compiled a short list of tips to practice eating healthy with the hope that students will be able to sustain a healthy lifestyle.

1. Don’t just eat snacks throughout the day. This leaves less room for all three nutritious meals.

2. Shop for things in bulk. Buying things in bulk gives you more bang for your buck. The more healthy-non-perishable ingredients the better!

3. Make enough food to have leftovers. You’re essentially getting 2–3 meals for the price of 1, and the leftovers take way less time and effort to prepare.

4. Take a cooking class. Educate yourself on basic cooking techniques and kitchen strategies.

5. Experiment more. This could be eating something new in a restaurant, or combining ingredients in your own kitchen.

6. Don’t eat late at night. It’s difficult for the body to digest foods consumed right before bed. The calories get turned into fat overnight which isn’t productive.

7. Learn quick and easy recipes to add to your staple list. This will help prevent the urge to go for the unhealthy quick and easy foods.

8. Use the resources that you have. If your dorm or house or apartment has a kitchen, use it! Try to make do with the cookware you have.

9. Learn about proper eating habits and nutrition information. Try to research into how much of each food group you should be eating a day. Try to understand what information is on a food label, and how to understand it.

Hopefully these tips and techniques can make it easier to change daily food habits without forcing the individual to drastically change their lifestyle. Providing nutritional assistance and education can really help a student understand the importance of healthy eating, and how to do it. As mentioned in the introduction, it’s important for students to understand as much as they can about what is entering their bodies for them to stay healthy to help prevent a plethora of long-term diseases. It’s also crucial that students learn it at a young age, because if they don’t start eating healthy now, they could avoid diseases down the road. This lack of knowledge can be easily cured. As education is an important factor in healthy eating habits, schools should provide a strong background in what we should and shouldn’t be eating. I think that a college seminar on cooking and nutrition would be highly beneficial. Healthy eating habits are a vital resource that, when learned early, can benefit an individual for life.