Athabasca students lead busy, eventful lives and deserve the right nutrition to fuel their day to day activities. While the occasional ramen meal might be acceptable, here are the latest tips and hacks to healthy eating on a time crunch and budget.
1. Does preparation time seem like a burden? Try preparing the lunch or dinner days in advance and refrigerate the contents in plastic food containers. The next time the Tim Hortons wait is too long, try preparing your own sandwiches and soups ahead of time. Of course, packing a lunch might seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! Weekends may be the prime time to dedicate to packing for the 5 days of the week. Obtaining a stash of plastic, single-serve food containers is a must. You can easily load your salads, soups, and snacks for the following week.
However, one problem encountered over the years when meals are prepped in advance is the bane of consuming food without variety. Challenge yourself by packing variety. Use a fridge calendar to monitor the package date to keep your lunches fresh.
2. Replace a big lunch with smaller, spaced-out snacking sessions. Research has shown snacking not only keeps our stomachs feeling full, but reduces the chances of obesity(Keast). So the next time you’re going for the combo meal at McDonald’s, try for a pack of pistachios or a bag of mandarin oranges instead.
3. Less is more. Imagine purchasing a new home. One home is small, fully furnished, and ready-to-live vs, a large home with frequent leakages and recurring problems. Which would you pick? Similarly, nutrition stresses quality over quantity. In my freshman year of university, I would dedicate a coupon book to spending less and eating more. As you might guess, the plan was a disaster. Not only did I feel unmotivated and unenergetic following a high-fat diet, but it lead to series of stomach and metabolic issues. In hindsight, opting for smaller serving sizes of quality food might have saved myself the discomfort. In combination with effective snacking, selecting for quality can truly be the holy grail of healthy dieting on a budget
4. Stuck on a meal plan? No problem. While you might be limited in your food options. There’s always a way to be conscious about what you bite into. Inquire about the ingredients, read into the menu often presented at college cafeterias to understand what you’re offered. Remember when your mother asked you to be less picky about what’s on your plate? This time, you’re doing exactly the opposite. Except focusing on only the healthier options. French fry days might not be an awful idea, so long as it’s not on the plate five days of the week.
5. Despite what experts say about processed foods, a select variety may be of equal nutritional value to whole, unprocessed foods. For example, canned tomatoes can’t be healthier than the hand-picked tomatoes on vine found at your local supermarket, right? In reality, tomato paste has higher concentrations of lycopenes, a biological molecule that protects against a series of cancers, from lung to prostate cancers. This antioxidant is well-known for its capacity to counter the negative effects of cholesterol as well (Giovannucci).
6. Despite higher salt content in canned products, there are a few that hold their value. One general rule, however, is that the lower the number of processing steps, typically the healthier the food. Frozen fruits, for example, require minimal processing besides freezing, thus can be a great source of vitamins for the busy scholar.
Keast, D. R., Nicklas, T. A., & O’neil, C. E. (2010). Snacking is Associated with Reduced Risk of Overweight and Reduced Abdominal Obesity in Adolescents: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) 1999?2004. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 92(2), 428-435.Giovannucci, E. (1999). Tomatoes, Tomato-based Products, Lycopene, and Cancer: Review of the Epidemiologic Literature. Journal of the national cancer institute, 91(4), 317-331.
Xin Xu is a post-graduate health-science AU student, aspiring clinician, globe-trotter, parrot-breeder and tea-connoisseur.