University life and healthy eating – Can these two co-exist?

eating healthy at university

Many students come to university prepared to have fun, study hard, stay up all night and sleep all day. Changes in your normal routine and eating habits and the freedom to indulge in lots of food with the swipe of a meal card can lead to some poor choices. Use these tips to help you make good choices and stay healthy.

I’ve come to university to have fun and party. Why do I need to eat well?

Here are some reasons why maintaining good eating habits is important while away at school:

  • You will maintain your weight and help avoid the dreaded “Freshman 15”.
  • You’ll have more energy for studying, socializing and athletic activities.
  • You’ll sleep better.
  • You may look fitter and have a healthy glow, which may make you feel better about yourself.
  • You may be able to avoid the colds and coughs that can easily spread around campus residences.
  • You’ll begin to practice healthy eating habits that will keep you healthy through adulthood.

General guidelines to follow when at university:

Watch for portion distortion

Supersizing your meal may seem like a good deal but it won’t help your health or waistline. For example, a typical portion of meat, fish or poultry should be about the size of a cell phone. A reasonable portion of pasta should be about a cup, not the usual 5-6 cups that restaurants serve. Need more help with serving sizes? Check out our interactive Food Portions Toolkit.

Stay hydrated

Choose water, milk (even chocolate) and 100% fruit or vegetable juice when you’re thirsty. You may be choosing energy drinks to keep you awake in class, or a can of pop because it’s cheapest - but these drinks are not the healthiest choices.

*Did you know? If you drink one can of regular pop everyday, after a year you will have drank the equivalent of 77 cups of sugar!

*Tip: The caffeine in energy drinks may help you stay alert but other ingredients like medicinal herbs usually have no scientifically proven benefits. Energy drinks are often higher in calories and more expensive than healthier beverages.

If you have energy drinks, you should not consume more than 500 ml (2 cups) of energy drinks per day and they should never be mixed with alcohol.

Read here for what you need to know about energy drinks and caffeine.

Make time for meals

Even with a busy schedule, it is possible to make time for healthy meals.  Have breakfast (even if you wake up late) and don’t be too busy studying to grab lunch or dinner.  Eating regularly will boost your brain power and keep you from giving in to unhealthy snacks and late night pizza deliveries.

Carry healthy snacks

Whether you’re living in residence or off-campus, keep healthy snacks with you so you’re not tempted to visit the vending machine. Here are some delicious and healthy choices that are also easy to grab as you head out the door.

  • Fresh fruit – store in a plastic container to keep it from getting bruised in your bag
  • Canned fruit in light syrup
  • Dried fruit like apricots, apple rings, and raisins
  • Raw veggies like baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and sliced bell peppers
  • Trail mix
  • Almonds
  • Whole grain crackers with peanut butter
  • String cheese
  • Unbuttered popcorn
  • Low-fat yogurt
  • Pretzels

Some snacks need to stay cold (like yogurt and cheese). Freeze a water bottle the night before and throw it in your backpack to keep your food cold.

There are lots of places to eat, on and off-campus. Here’s some more information:

  • If you’re living in residence, check out these helpful hints.
  • Visiting the campus restaurants between classes? Use these strategies to make healthy choices.
  • Living on your own for the first time? Use these home cooking tips.

The Bottom Line when you are at university

At university you will learn a lot both in and out of the classroom. It’s also about having fun and having new food experiences. Try unfamiliar foods or prepare your favourites in new ways. Pizza and fries are fine sometimes but making mainly healthy choices will help you make the most of your university experience.

Do you have more questions about healthy eating at school? Speak to a dietitian in person.  You can find a dietitian on campus or locally.


Last Update – October 13, 2020

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