We’ve all heard about that dreaded “Freshmen 15,” and there’s nothing mythological about it. The biggest culprit of the first year weight gain is being forced to live in a dorm with relatively poor access to a kitchen, cooking supplies, pantry space or adequate funding. You typically can’t work full time (since, you know, you’re taking on 6 classes of gen-ed requirements and reliving high school all over again), so you’re stuck on whatever stipend the school or your parents can provide.
Fear not! It is actually possible to come out of your freshmen year looking fit and fabulous and feeling like a million bucks. Impossibility is the champion of innovation.
Here’s a list of healthy food staples and preparation ideas for the microwave chef:
Unfortunately, most of the affordable stuff needs to be cooked on a grill, oven or stove, but there are some ways around it if you can stretch your dollars around.
- Tuna - Canned tuna lasts forever, doesn’t require fridge space, and is packed with lean protein. You make a poor-man’s Salad Nicoise, mix it with hummus or olive oil and vinegar for a tuna wrap, or just eat it plain if you dig the taste.
- Salmon - Did you know salmon comes canned too? A little pricer than it’s tuna cousin, but perfect for laying on a beg of spinach leaves with some balsamic vinegar.
- Beans - You’ve got plenty of choices here. Black beans, garbanzo beans, white beans… they all go great in a salad, or you can microwave them together with some minute-rice for a quick and filling Rice & Beans dinner.
- Eggs - If you can’t afford the chicken, you can at least buy his eggs. Eggs are amazing. Did you know that you cook them in a microwave, too? Seriously, Buzzfeed lists 12 different ways to nuke them, so can have an omelet for breakfast every single day.
- Greek Yogurt - Opt for the plain yogurt or the kind that’s only sweetened with honey. Read the ingredients. A lot of the popular varieties are packed with sugar and high fructose corn syrup that you want to avoid.
- Chicken Breast - You can buy it pre-grilled for a quick meal that just needs to be reheated, or even hit the deli and get some sliced chicken breast meat for your wrap or sammy. Deli meat is quick,
- Peanut Butter - PB is amazing on everything. On toast, on celery, on carrots, on a spoon. Just opt for the natural variety without all the added sugar. Read the ingredients. They should be: peanuts, salt. That’s all.
Veggies make great snacks and side dishes alike.
- Steam Bags - Pick up a box and you can steam anything in a microwave to go alongside your protein.
- Spinach leaves - Spinach is perfect for a salad, to fill out a wrap, or even steamed!
- Fresh Celery, Carrots, Cherry Tomatoes, Baby Sweet Peppers, Bell Peppers, Broccoli, Cauliflower - There are so many things you can do with these veggies! Chop them up raw and make yourself a bunch of to-go snack bags for class. Add them to a salad or a wrap. Steam carrots, peppers or broccoli to accompany a hot dish. Also, celery and carrots are amazing when dipped in PB. These things obviously don’t keep forever, so make sure you only buy what you’ll use in the next few days.
- Salsa - It’s so perfect, it works for everything. You can add it to chicken and make a taco, you can add it to scrambled eggs and have a breakfast burrito, you can use it as dressing for a salad, or you can spice up a veggie wrap.
- Sweet Potatoes - It might take a good 15 minutes, but you can microwave a sweet potato and pretend it’s baked. Just make sure you poke holes in it first. Please.
- Canned Veggies - I’m only a fan of corn or peas in the canned veggie department, but if you fancy any others then go ahead and grab them up. Just make sure you check the ingredients list and make sure nothing shady is hiding in the can.
- Fresh Fruit - Go nuts. You like apples? Bananas? Oranges? Grapes? Strawberries? Fruit is awesome and you should eat it all. Opt for whatever is on sale and in season when you go shopping to save a few bucks. Off-season fruit can get a bit pricey.
- Canned Fruit - Please, please, please read the ingredients. Do not get any fruit that its packaged in sugar syrups. Only purchase canned fruit that is packaged in water.
- Raisins - They are practically the only dried fruit that hasn’t been rolled around in sugar. Raisins are great as a snack, in a salad, or eveb in your morning oatmeal.
- Avocado - The king of healthy fats! Adding avocado to anything will make you 100% more full and keep you satisfied for hours.
- Rice - You can cook minute-rice in a microwave, and its a great carb boost after an intense workout session.
- Oatmeal - The breakfast of champions. Get yourself a box of plain, rolled or steel-cut oats. Read the ingredients! If there is anything more than “oats” listed, you should find a better brand. Oats can be microwaved with water, and you can add a sweetener like maple syrup, honey or fresh chopped fruit & raisins. My favorite way to prepare oatmeal is mixed with PB and maple syrup. You’ll be full forever.
- Granola - Again, look at the ingredients. Granola can often come with a big price tag, but if you find it when it’s on sale, score! Try to opt for a brand that doesn’t list “sugar” as the second ingredient. I opt for the brands that sweeten granola naturally with maple syrup or honey.
- Wraps - Sometimes a salad just is not convenient enough. Pick up some whole-wheat, whole-grain tortillas to wrap that up salad and make it to-go.
- Water. Unsweetened iced or hot tea.
- Listen, I know you’re a college student and you need a lot of caffeine in your life. If you’re going to buy energy drinks, at least opt for the sugar-free, no-carb varieties. Just remember, they’re terrible for you. Coffee and tea can be your friend.
- Become a Slow-Cooker Maestro - I don’t know if you’re particular school will actually allow a crockpot on campus, but if they do, you’ve just opened up a world of possibilities.
- Approach the Cafeteria with Caution - If you’ve got a loaded meal card, then you’re going to need to be extra careful when prowling the school cafeteria. Stay away from anything fried. Ask the chef how the grilled foods are prepared (so often they are bathed in butter beforehand). Stick with a protein + veggie formula and you’ll be golden. Don’t even look at the greasy hamburgers, hot dogs and fries.
- Don’t Forget The Condiments and Spices - Spices make food taste good. Salt, Pepper, Cinnamon and Garlic are a good start. Balsamic Vinegar and Extra Virgin Olive Oil are perfect dressings for wraps and salads.
Good luck on your first college food shopping adventure! Send me pics of your healthy carts and baskets, and I’ll share them on the blog.
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