College Parenting 101: Helping Your Kids Eat Healthy at College

Parents can help their college-age kids continue to eat healthy even when they're no longer living at home

College is a time of incredible change in the lives of young adults. While it is a time for excitement and fun, it can also be a crucial time for first-year students - exploring their new found independence and facing challenges of new choices. As a parent of a new college student, you’ve probably advised on course selection and dorm decorations, but don’t forget to talk about healthy eating. Having a healthy start to a new year can be a key to overall success in college.


Often, college students eat on the go and develop poor eating patterns like skipping meals or eating fast, convenient foods. These habits can be attributed to limited budgets and time, excessive stress associated with classes, assignments and peer pressure, and make it difficult for college students to establish a healthy diet. Common items found in dorm rooms include instant noodles and snacks like chips and cookies. While these snacks may be cheap, filling, and tasty, they are often high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat, making them unhealthy choices for heart and overall health.


A recent study from Harvard School of Public Health in Boston concluded that consumption of instant noodles two times a week was associated with higher likelihood of developing risk factors for heart disease including high blood pressure, diabetes, high blood sugar level, abnormal cholesterol levels and excess body fat around the waist. These are risks you can help your child avoid.


It is a well-known fact that dietary habits in children and young adults can be tracked into adulthood. So parents, even though your child has left the nest, you can still influence their food choices.


College-bound students are likely to succeed in making healthy eating a priority with parental support. Parents can empower their children to build and maintain healthy eating lifestyle by educating them on benefits of healthy eating versus unhealthy choices.


Suggestions for Encouraging Healthy Eating Habits


Dorm Snacks


Send a care package that includes easy and healthy grab 'n' go snacks such as:

  • String cheese
  • Dried fruits
  • Trail mix
  • Protein bars
  • Yogurt cups with granola
  • Apples and bananas

Whole grain crackers or veggie chips, hummus dips and hard-boiled eggs are other great choices that easily store in cabinets or mini-refrigerators. These snacks are high in healthy carbohydrates needed for quick energy, and provide proteins and essential vitamins and minerals. Moreover, these snacks will help them stay alert and able to concentrate better on their studies.


Eating in the Dining Hall


Encourage healthy choices by reminding your child to avoid or limit deep fried and highly-processed foods, white bread and canned foods that are high in sugar. At meals, suggest filling half the plate with vegetables and fruits. Choose more whole grains like oatmeal or wheat bread with it. Pick lean proteins such as hard-boiled eggs or white-meat chicken breast, turkey or heart-healthy fish. Some vegetable curries, veggie or tofu stir-fries and made-to-order omelets or sandwiches can also be healthy options. Remind them that pizzas, burgers, ice cream and other sweets are better as occasional indulgences in small servings.


Off Campus Eating


Helping your child plan healthy, balanced meals and snacks will motivate them to eat healthy off campus. Plan on buying healthy nonperishables like rolled oats, dry beans and peas or brown rice, in bulk. Provide them with simple recipes. If you plan on visiting them or they return home, help prepare a big batch of healthy, easy meals like veggie chili, or beans and peas soups and freeze them into individual portions to eat back at school. Buy more frozen vegetables, as they last longer without going bad and can be more affordable. Incorporate them in low sodium healthy vegetable soup, stews and stir-fry recipes.


The years ahead hold excitement and challenges for your college student. With these simple steps and suggestion you can help make sure their journey is a healthy one too.