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Eating well at university

Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen MartinReviewed on 19.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

You may be new to the university and living in a dormitory or rented house. Both scenarios come with some daunting tasks of needing to figure out how to make healthy food choices and possibly navigating grocery shopping and cooking. Our medical team here at Healthwords has been exactly where you are – we'll take you through our top tips for finding a nutritious and balanced diet while juggling the demands and temptations of university life.

What is a healthy diet?

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 university 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 of some dairy or dairy alternatives, proteins (fish, beans, pulses, eggs, meat), and minimal saturated fats like butter and oil.

How do I plan meals ahead?

Use a shopping list to plan your meals for the week. It can help stop you from buying staples you already have in the cupboard, or from picking the unhealthy 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 takeout burger that leaves you hungry an hour later. It'll be cheaper too.

What's batch cooking?

A budget is at the forefront of requirements for any student's meal – we remember all 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, bolognese, stews, curries, pasta sauces – just some of the meals that could last a few days and then provide a few more portions for the freezer when cooked in big enough batches. Or you could share your culinary delights with your roommates and friends, and they'll hopefully repay the generosity in the future.

Food sorted, what about hydration?

Key to a healthy diet and healthy mind is, of course, hydration. Six to eight cups per day of water is a good starting point, and many people will drink more than this, especially while playing sports or spending time in the gym. Hydration is central to so many of our body's core processes, and therefore an important thing to keep on top of.

If you're peeing urine darker than pale straw color, 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 dollars (except for your monthly water bill!), and has no sugar in it.

Drinking alcohol is part of many students' experience, and with sports nights, cheap pints in the union, and preloading with your roommates before a night out, consumption can easily 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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This article has been written by UK-based doctors and pharmacists, so some advice may not apply to US users and some suggested treatments may not be available. For more information, please see our T&Cs.
Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed by Dr Karen Martin
Reviewed on 19.10.2023
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