You may be new to university and living in self-catered accommodation or halls of residence, or you may be starting out in a student house. Both scenarios come with the daunting task of needing to figure out how to cook, how to cook well, and how not to burn down the kitchen. Our medical team here at Healthwords has been exactly where you are – we'll run you through our top tips for finding a nutritious and balanced diet while juggling the demands and temptations of university.
Eating a healthy diet has a decidedly positive impact on energy levels, sleep, mental health, weight and, over the long-term, your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, stroke and cancer. Hard to imagine old age problems in your uni days, so let’s stick with high energy and good quality sleep for now!
So what does a healthy diet look like? For most people this means a well-balanced and varied diet, with minimal processed foods and not too much of one food group. Five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is a good starting place. Try to aim for wholegrain carbohydrate options (bread, pasta, rice), and then the rest of your diet should be made up from some dairy or dairy alternatives, proteins (fish, beans, pulses, eggs, meat), and minimal unsaturated fats like butter and oil.
Planning your meals for the week is a good way to focus your shopping list. It can help stop you from buying staples you already have in the cupboard, or picking the stodgy or sweet options while hungry on the shopping trip.
Meal planning can help you stick to a healthier diet, as it can help steer you away from junk food as there’s a plan for what you’re having for dinner each night. You’re more likely to pick options that give you long-lasting energy, like wholegrain or complex carbohydrates, rather than the quick-fix takeaway burger and you’re hungry an hour later. It’ll work out cheaper too.
A budget is at the forefront of requirements for any student’s meal – we remember on too well that money is short and there are plenty of more exciting things to spend it on. Batch cooking can be a good solution to save money and time. Aim to cook large volumes of meals, especially recipes that can be easily frozen – buying ingredients in bulk can be much cheaper and you can make healthier choices – all available for when you most need your nutrition.
Vegetable soups, bolognaise, stews, curries, pasta sauces – just some of the meals that could last a few days of meals and then provide a few more portions for the freezer when cooked in big enough portions. Or you could share your culinary delights with your flatmates and friends, and they’ll hopefully repay the generosity in future.
Key to a healthy diet and healthy mind is, of course, hydration. 1.5 to 2 litres (6 to 8 cups) per day of water is a good starting point, and many people will drink more than this, especially sporty or spending time in the gym. Hydration is central to so many of our bodies core processes, and therefore an important thing to keep on top of.
If you’re peeing urine darker than pale straw colour, or it’s smelling strong, then it’s a sure sign that you need to drink more fluids. Water will also protect your waistline, bank balance and teeth: it has zero calories, costs zero pounds (on top of your quarterly water bill!), and has no sugar in it.
Drinking alcohol is part of many students’ experience, and with sports night, cheap pints in the union and preloading with your flatmates before a night out, it can be easy for consumption to creep up. Make sure you feel comfortable with your limits. And keep hydrated during a night out and the morning after. You could add in O.R.S hydration tablets to give an added boost and help your body rebalance.
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