College Herbies Series (Part 1): How to Stay (and Eat) Healthy When You're Busy

Posted by:Lindsay S. Nixon Category: Series

After last week's Back to School theme (get ideas for on the go healthy snacks, how to build awesome vegan sandwiches and vegan lunchbox ideas), this week we're headed off to college with guest posts by Herbie coed's! They'll be dishin' up tips on how to stay healthy in college (or even if you're just super busy!) 

First up: Melissa!

Melissa's big secret for staying healthy with a crazy coed schedule? She preps ahead! This is something I always preach with the meal plans (they're designed with a "make ahead" mentality — set aside a few hours one day a week and prep/make everything for the week, then grab-n-go all week long!)

Having a plan — and prepwork — in place is a game changer for me. It's the only way I can stay on top of my crazy 80-90 hour week! (If only I had this dedication when I was Melissa's age!)

Nevertheless, here's how Melissa (a recent grad) made it work her senior year!

Quick Bio: I’m Melissa and an avid Happy Herbivore follower. I adopted the plant-based lifestyle about 15 months ago, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve lost weight, have made some major fitness accomplishments (like running — and actually sometimes enjoying it!) and have never felt healthier.  

Living in a house rather than a dorm made eating healthy easier since I had access to a full kitchen (rather than going to dining halls). I’ve always loved cooking, but preparing meals just for myself took some getting used to. I also didn't want to have to fit cooking something every day into my busy schedule. 

As many people often say, being prepared is the key to healthy eating, so my main tactic was to prepare a big batch of one or two main dishes to eat throughout the week (I don’t mind repeating meals — in fact, if something is really good then I actually look forward to eating it multiple times in a row) plus some other things to have as sides, like a plain grain or some veggies (steamed broccoli is one of my faves) to add to my meals. That way, I had no excuses for grabbing something not-so-healthy. 

Everything shown is vegan/plant-based, oil-free, and free of any added salt.

  1. Separated and rinsed romaine leaves — For lettuce wraps with...

  2. Salsa chickpeas. This is a super simple recipe and it is EXTREMELY tasty.

  3. Italian cauliflower "rice" — cauliflower "riced" in my food processor, then water-sauteed it with some onion, garlic, Italian seasoning, and black pepper. 

  4. Boiled broccoli — To eat along with my meals throughout the week. 

  5. De-stemmed, torn, and rinsed kale — To steam and eat with my meals throughout the week. 

  6. Carrot and celery sticks — For snacking and going along with various meals.

  7. Homemade (oil-free) granola for breakfast with unsweetened almond milk and sliced banana.

Not everyone in college has access to a full kitchen or can cook all of their own meals, though.  I’ve been on a variety of dining plans throughout college, so I know the difficulties of trying to stay healthy in that setting. Since I only became plant-based my last school year, I cannot speak from experience about how I went about eating healthy (because I really wasn’t making the healthiest choices before now anyway) or plant-based in the traditional college dining hall setting.  But now that I’ve become pretty good at maintaining my healthy habits, I think I can provide some tips about healthy eating in college in general. Think of these as the things that I wish I had been doing before, if only I had known the benefits of the plant-based lifestyle earlier. Hindsight is 20-20, right?

*Happy Herbivore Blueberry Scone (HHC) with mashed banana

Eat breakfast.  You do have time, I promise.  I didn’t start actually eating a real breakfast until my senior year.  I don’t know what I was thinking all that time before now because breakfast is now probably the most important part of my day.  You can fit healthy breakfasts in by keeping healthy options on hand in your room.  If you have access to a dorm kitchen, or at least a microwave, oatmeal is a great option. Fresh fruit is always a good quick and easy breakfast. If you have access to a kitchen, you could also prepare for the week by making some healthy Happy Herbivore muffins (recipes in HHC, EHH, HHA and on the blog) or granola bars (in EHH). 

Spend the money where it counts. As a college student, I was operating on a limited budget and I did my best to stick to a certain amount of spending on food and groceries for the week. That meant buying whichever variety of apples is the cheapest at the time, buying regular bagged spinach over baby spinach, and not always buying my favorite brand of store-bought veggie burgers.

However, there were certain things I would not sacrifice on. For example, I wanted to buy some pre-made marinara sauce. The store’s generic brand was significantly cheaper than my preferred brand, but upon inspection of the nutritional stats, I found that the generic brand had 1.5 times the sugar and calories! No, thank you, I’ll stick with my preferred healthier brand and just spend the few extra dollars. 

*HH Quick Burger (EHH)

The freezer is your friend. If you have a freezer available in your dorm, use it! Frozen veggies and fruits are great to have for quick thrown together meals or even snacks. Frozen fruit is also great for adding to breakfasts or just eating on its own as a snack.

Prep ahead.  I’ve already touched on this, but it’s worth giving this point its own blurb. Have things available for you to just grab on your way out of your room for a busy day so that you don’t find yourself absolutely starving and end up buying some overly processed snacks at your school’s cafe/market/convenience store. Buy some baby carrots and pre-portion them in containers or bags for you to grab on your way out the door.  

Avoid the late-night eats.  This is probably my tip that I find hardest to stick with. I find that I don’t like to have much in my stomach when I go to sleep, and your body doesn’t need much extra energy for while you’re snoozing anyway, so I try to not eat anything past 10:30 p.m. This can be hard as a busy student with late-night study sessions and hanging out with friends, but I at least try to stick to this rule for the most part.  

Get creative!  This goes for all aspects of healthy eating (in college and in general), but especially for eating in dining halls. 

So there you have it: my attempt at some tips for eating healthy in college. It may seem hard at first and it often does require a little extra work, but you will certainly reap the rewards.  Just stick with it!

The Happy Herbivore cookbooks have been amazing for inspiring my meals. I’ve made the Ghanaian Red-Red Stew (EHH), the Moroccan Lentil Soup (EHH), Minestrone (EHH), Quick Burgers (EHH), Tofu Fritatta (HHC), and many more recipes.  When it comes to things like soups and stews, I often multiply the recipe to last me several days. 

Thanks, Melissa!

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