There have been times that the only thing Whitni Herrera could order off a menu was applesauce.
“I basically foraged,” said Herrera, a vegan of six years and 2010 graduate of the University of Nevada – Reno (UNR). “I started to do a lot of cooking and shopping for products that I could take with me to campus.”
Herrera learned that being health-conscious in college takes work. But a little bit of planning can help. Here are three things for health-conscious college seekers to keep in mind.
• Take note of your surroundings
While food options probably shouldn’t be the main factor in your college decision, the topic shouldn’t be ignored — especially if you have a food allergy, such as a gluten intolerance, or are on a strict diet, like veganism.
When you do a campus visit, browse the menus and eat at some of the food spots on campus. Even if you’re not living on campus, you’ll be there for long periods of time. It may not be practical to go home between classes to make a healthy snack, so having options is important.
A good restaurant near campus (within reasonable walking distance) can be just as good. Walk around a little. See what’s nearby, say, within a half-mile radius of campus. Do this ahead of time and don’t just assume that the college has your best interest in mind when it comes to healthy eating. As rankings show, some colleges, such as the University of Oregon, present way more options for the health-conscious student than others.
When Herrera transferred to Reno from the University of Oregon, she left behind many vegan and vegetarian restaurants in Eugene that she loved.
“When I moved to Nevada, I was not as fortunate to have vegan pastry shops,” said Herrera, who helps manage a healthy grocery store in Reno. “There was very little I could buy at the UNR food courts.”
• Look at housing now
It may seem too early to consider real estate, but for the health-conscious student, it’s vital. Where you live will inevitably affect where you eat.
If you plan to live on campus all four years, keep in mind that you might not have or be allowed to have a microwave in the dorms. Most schools, however, do allow students to have small refrigerators in their dorm rooms. Ask during your college visit or check your school’s website to see the policy on appliances in dorm rooms. Regardless, living on campus can still be a viable healthy-eating option.
“If you plan to live on campus, don’t buy into the meal plans that the school offers,” Herera suggested. “Instead, buy groceries from a market that allow you to prepare meals in your dorm room. Instant oatmeal, fresh vegetables, soup, granola bars. Just because you’re in college doesn’t mean you have to live like everyone around you.” It should be noted that some colleges may require purchase of a meal plan as a condition of living on campus.
Living close to campus can be as convenient as living in the dorms, but with more freedom to choose what you eat. If you live close enough to campus and have a big enough gap between your classes, making your own healthy food at home is possible.
Before committing to a school, research living costs near campus. Is it affordable? Will you need roommates to make it work? Do you know anyone? The health-conscious student should ask questions like these early.
• Be honest with yourself
Just because you’re healthy doesn’t mean you’re a foodie or a good cook. It may sound great in theory to rush home to whip up an eggplant Parmesan dish, but will you actually do it? More importantly, will you have time?
Some people, no matter how health-conscious, still end up eating out a lot. And if you are greatly discouraged by cooking or preparing meals frequently, then maybe choosing a health-conscious campus needs to be a major factor in your decision. But others, like Herrera, choose to make their diets work, regardless.
“It is a commitment,” Herrera said. “Being health-conscious to me means taking extra time to prepare a meal or snack, rather than ordering one from a restaurant. If someone places their health as a priority, then they will find ways of making it work. No matter what.”
Be honest with yourself. Are you going to make your healthy lifestyle work regardless of your campus food options? Or do you need healthy fast-food options on or near your campus to maintain your diet? Now’s the time to be asking these questions, before committing to a college.
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