Healthy Eating 101
The college experience is a time of growth and adjustment. Students have new friends, challenging coursework and different living arrangements. Many are away from home for the first time, which allows the freedom to eat what and when they want.
To prevent the typical college weight gain and compromised immune system, adopt some healthy eating habits to keep your energy and resistance to illness high.
- Start with Breakfast. Begin the day with a healthy breakfast. For those days when you don’t have time to stop by the cafeteria on the way to class, keep fresh fruit, bread for toast and single-serving juice containers in your room. This can help prevent mid-morning cravings for sugary treats and help you focus on your classes.
- Limit Fast Food. Limit stops at fast food restaurants, and when you do go, bypass the French fries and other fried treats. Order salads or sandwiches that don’t contain fried or greasy meat. Select healthy pizza toppings, such as olives, mushrooms and green peppers; if you must have meat, opt for Canadian bacon which is much lower in fat than pepperoni.
- Healthy Snacking. As an alternative to unhealthy treats such as chips or candy bars, keep healthy snacks such as raw veggies, yogurt and fresh fruit, popcorn, pretzels, low-fat string cheese, raisins, trail mix, applesauce and granola bars in your room.
- Limit Sugar. Sugar is high in calories but low in nutrition. Even if you don’t feel that you can completely eliminate it from your diet during college, limit the amount you consume. Instead of eating a whole candy bar, have a piece of fruit first and split the candy bar with someone else.
- Balance Your Meals. A healthy diet consists of a balance of protein, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and fats. Eat a variety of vegetables and moderate amounts of protein. Limit fats to the healthier choices, such as olive oil and nuts.
- Stay Hydrated. Drink at least eight eight-ounce glasses of water each day. Carry around a sports bottle filled with water and drink it throughout the day to keep from becoming dehydrated. If you work out, you’ll need even more.
Making Healthy Food Choices
Volunteer Dining offers easily attainable nutrition information for food items offered in the residential dining halls. Volunteer Dining provides students and the campus community with knowledge through literature to enable informed selection. All residential dining halls on campus offer vegetarian, vegan, allergy-free and healthy options. Volunteer Dining provides daily menus online at utdining.com for the campus community to view.
At Fast Food Restaurants
The quickest way to derail a diet is by eating unhealthy fast foods. However, for many college students, fast food is a go-to choice because it is cheap and convenient, and access to cooking appliances can be limited in residence halls. You can still choose healthier fast food, though. Choose lean meats and vegetables that are fresh, baked or grilled. Salad dressing can be packed with calories; keep servings at a minimum. Instead of pepperoni and sausage on your pizza, have veggies.
In your Dorm Room
Keep some food in your dorm room so that you always have access to healthy options and are not tempted to go to a nearby convenience store or vending machine for late-night unhealthy snacks, such as cookies or potato chips. Whole-grain breakfast cereals or pretzels, dried fruit, baby carrots, fresh fruit, yogurt and nuts are foods you can keep handy.
Planning and Preparation
Even if you have a meal plan for Volunteer Dining, you will probably need to supply some of your own food for a quick snack or meal when you can’t get to the dining hall. Keep money on hand for the times when you have to buy food at a store or go to a restaurant, and when you’re forced to rely on fast food, choose a salad over a burger and fries.
Whether you cook in the residence hall, pack lunches or utilize Volunteer Dining, an eating plan is a must for staying healthy while at college. The freedom to eat what you please may result in nutritional deficiencies or the typical “freshman 15″ weight gain. Having a plan makes good nutrition automatic. Wherever you dine, eat regularly spaced meals, controlled portions and a variety of foods from all the food groups.
The Food Groups
MyPlate illustrates the five food groups that are the building blocks for a healthy diet. Before you eat, think about what goes on your plate or in your cup or bowl.
- Protein Foods. All foods made from meat, poultry, seafood, beans and peas, eggs, processed soy products, nuts, and seeds are considered part of the Protein Foods Group. Beans and peas are also part of the Vegetable Group. Select a variety of protein foods to improve nutrient intake and health benefits, including at least 8 ounces of cooked seafood per week. For vegetarians, options in the Protein Foods Group include beans and peas, processed soy products, and nuts and seeds. Meat and poultry choices should be lean or low-fat.
- Grains. Any food made from wheat, rice, oats, cornmeal, barley or another cereal grain is a grain product. Bread, pasta, oatmeal, breakfast cereals, tortillas, and grits are examples of grain products. Grains have fiber that fills you up to aid in weight control, and protein, iron and B vitamins to keep you healthy. Ready-to-eat cereals with low sugar are a college student’s best friend, providing 100% of some nutrients to make up for shortfalls on busy days.
- Dairy. All fluid milk products and many foods made from milk are considered part of this food group. Most Dairy Group choices should be fat-free or low-fat. Foods made from milk that retain their calcium content are part of the group. Foods made from milk that have little-to-no calcium, such as cream cheese, cream, and butter, are not. Calcium-fortified soy milk (soy beverage) is also part of the Dairy Group. The National Institutes of Health recommends that adults ages 19 to 50 consume 1,000 mg of calcium each day. Yogurt has the highest amount of calcium, containing an average of 400 mg.
- Vegetables. Any vegetable or 100% vegetable juice counts as a member of the Vegetable Group. Vegetables may be raw or cooked; fresh, frozen, canned, or dried/dehydrated; and may be whole, cut-up, or mashed. If you find it difficult to keep fresh vegetables on hand, buy frozen medleys or pack cans of 100% vegetable juice in your backpack. Raw vegetables make filling snacks for study time. You may be able to save part of your lunchtime salad or cut up carrots for later. Choose veggie pizza toppings for their vitamins, minerals and fiber.
- Fruits. Any fruit or 100% fruit juice counts as part of the Fruit Group. Fruits may be fresh, canned, frozen, or dried, and may be whole, cut-up, or pureed. Fresh, frozen, dried or canned fruits give you options for getting your daily vitamin C, which supports a healthy immune system.
Eating Healthy on a Budget
A common misconception about healthy eating is that it costs more. A healthy diet helps you avoid illness and the cost of doctors and medicine, and healthy foods do not have to be expensive. Many healthy foods are often cheaper than less healthy alternatives for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reduce meat, soda and junk food purchases; instead, spend your money on inexpensive healthy foods.
NPR Clip: Eating Healthy on a Budget
Be Smart When You Shop
Inexpensive Healthy Staples
- Look for affordable and healthy staples that are available throughout the year.
- Inexpensive protein, such as canned beans, canned tuna and eggs, are readily available and help build and repair tissues, as well as form antibodies to fight infection.
- Frozen vegetables are also a less expensive option that contains many nutrients, including fiber, potassium and vitamins A and C.
- Whole grains, such as oats and brown rice, can be bought in bulk to keep costs down and provide fiber, iron and other antioxidants.
Know What’s In Season
Produce that is in season generally costs less and is likely to be at peak in flavor. Bananas, carrots, lettuce, onions and pears are affordable options that are in season all year.
Click Here for a handy chart showing what’s in season!
Know Where to Shop
Know what your options are when it comes to purchasing inexpensive, healthy food on and off campus.
- Volunteer Dining offers various meal plans to meet students’ individual needs.
- Farmers markets offer fresh, local produce that may be more cost-effective than regular grocery stores. Buying fresh, local food is a smart option because you’ll cut out the distribution costs and avoid the additives and chemicals found in many mass-marketed foods.
- Buy in bulk to save money; however, do not buy more fresh food than you can eat, as it can spoil quickly.
Eat at Restaurants in Moderation
Another inexpensive way to eat healthy is to cut down or even avoid eating out. Dining at restaurants is much more expensive, and less healthy, than eating at home. Even though fast food is cheap, you can still pay less for the same types of food at the grocery store and also cut out the extra fat and
University of Tennessee Student Nutrition Educator
Every year Volunteer Dining works in conjunction with the Center for Health Education & Wellness to provide a Student Nutrition Educator for the University of Tennessee community. The Student Nutrition Educator works with students, faculty and staff to assist those interested in reaching his or her nutritional goals, increasing nutritional knowledge and promoting excellent nutritional practices campus-wide.
Nutritional educational services offered by the Student Nutrition Educator include weight management, healthy-eating practices, heart health, food allergies, vegetarian and vegan diets, GERD, IBS, dietary vitamin/mineral sources, and religious special dietary needs.
Please feel free to contact the Student Nutrition Educator to make an appointment if you have any nutrition-related questions or concerns at 865-974-4111 or by e-mail at
Interactive Self-Assessment Tools
Use these interactive, self-assessment tools to learn more about your health and health risks, and discover new resources to help you lead a healthy lifestyle.
**Remember, these calculators are not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. If you have any specific health concerns, please contact your primary care provider.
Aim for a Healthy Weight
Family Health History
- Health Screening Guidelines
- Effects of High Blood Pressure on Your Body
- Estimate Your Heart Attack Risk
- Diabetes Risk Calculator
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics
- Dietary Guidelines for American
- Center for Science in the Public Interest
- National Institute of Health
- Choose My Plate
- Medline Plus
- Food and Nutrition Information Center
- Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion
- Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
- Sports, Cardiovascular, and Wellness Nutrition
- Runners World
- American Council for Exercise
- Let’s Move
- U.S. National Physical Activity Plan
- The Food Allergy Network
- Gluten Intolerance Group
- National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases
Information adapted from:
Healthy Grocery Lists for College Students from LiveStrong.com
Healthy Food for College Students from LiveStrong.com
Food Groups from ChooseMyPlate.gov
College Students’ Diet from LiveStrong.com
Eating Habits of College Students from LiveStrong.com