Students often tell me that their diet (and their family’s) has gotten worse since they started school. They say that it’s hard to balance good eating habits while juggling school, family, and jobs. Here are some tips I learned when I was going to college, starting a family, and balancing all the aspects of a hectic life.
If I think about my worst food choices, they usually happened because I failed to plan ahead, I was starving, and I needed something quick and satisfying. Planning ahead is one of the most valuable things I have ever done to address my nutritional dilemma on a hectic schedule.
A simple time-saving idea is cooking larger amounts on weekends and packaging up single servings in my fridge and freezer for the rest of the week or following week. It also helps save time when packing my kids’ lunches! Plus, careful shopping choices on the weekend help me stock my fridge and pantry with quick and easy lunches and snacks like cottage cheese, low-sugar yogurt nuts, fruits, and veggies.
Healthy choices: read the label!
Beware of pre-packaged foods that claim “low sugar” or “reduced calories.” Just because they reduced the sugar from what it was before doesn’t guarantee it is healthy now. Reduced calories from what? 500 down to 400 for a quick prepackaged junk food snack still isn’t a healthy choice, so don’t fall for labels that could be misleading you to believe they are healthy.
Read the label before you put it in your shopping cart, paying special attention to total grams of sugars, fats, carbs, and dietary fiber especially. You might be surprised what you find on the labels of some of your favorite foods that you consider quick and easy.
Cost & budget
Yes, budgets are a consideration, but think about the cost of an unhealthy lifestyle due to diet and lack of exercise. You may end up spending more in health care, missed time off work from illness, and fatigue resulting from a poor diet.
Buying healthy foods in bulk (such as dried beans) can save money on the front end while still meeting nutritional goals. The trick to this goes back to points one and two: plan ahead and make healthy choices based on nutritional facts.
Having a routine weekly schedule in which you can set aside time to shop wisely, cook nutritionally, and eat at regular intervals can have a huge impact on maintaining a healthy eating lifestyle. Studies show eating on a schedule helps reduce unplanned weight gain, alleviates the stress of not knowing when or what you will eat, and leads to a healthier overall metabolism. Take the time to set a schedule and you’ll find that eating isn’t an afterthought or stressor anymore.
Fresh, unprocessed is always a better choice
How do you make a good choice in spontaneous situation where you’re hungry, in a hurry and have a limited budget? One golden rule to remember, even in a rush, is that fresh, unprocessed foods are almost always better than pre-packaged processed foods and snacks. Hit the produce aisle instead of the snack aisle. Foods high in fiber and complex carbs can actually be filling and help you through to the next meal better than a quick fix from simple carbs.
Hydration is a critical necessity of digestion. Eating sometimes masks thirst, but the effects are damaging, especially if the foods we consume are high in sodium. Be careful not to load up on coffee and energy drinks high in caffeine that can actually compound dehydration. Drinking at least eight glasses of water a day can keep you feeling fuller throughout your day, as well as aid in the function of digestion. Do not skimp on the water.
Dividing up tasks such as shopping or meal preparation, alternating family members that have been delegated these responsibilities, can help ease the burden of putting it all on one person.
The benefits of eating a balanced diet are countless: staying focused so you can study, reducing fatigue, keeping you on target with your weight are just a few.
Catherine Romeo is a full-time medical specialties assistant professor at the Flagstaff campus of CollegeAmerica. She has two decades of experience in healthcare administration, telemedicine development, and healthcare education, and she is also routinely involved in community service with the March of Dimes and American Cancer Society, regularly communicating with local, state, and federal lawmakers on issues concerning healthcare policy and health education issues. In 2012, Romeo was awarded the APSCU national Educator of the Year award for her “compassionate and giving spirit, coupled with her high standards of achievement for herself and her students.”
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