When it comes to healthy eating, it's extra challenging in college.
College life is full of constraints that prevent you from eating healthy meals and making better food choices.
- Odd hours
- Limited dining hall food options
Just to name a couple.
And that's not all...
Many students are away from home for the first time, having to take on everything from cooking, schoolwork, to an internship, all on their own.
Despite your desire to be healthy, fit and whole, it's too easy to resort to a meal that's fast and accessible.
Ramen noodles become the kitchen staple. Heading to Chipotle for burritos is now a daily thing.
For inevitable late night hunger? 24/7 McDonalds drive-through always seems to fit the bill.
These quick and easy dorm room meals and on-the-go items are fine once in awhile, but they quickly become seriously boring, unhealthy and unappetizing.
Not to mention, it adds unnecessary pounds to your weight and inches to your waistline.
It’s called Freshman 15, a famous term that describes a 15-pound weight gain phenomenon amongst college Freshmen.
Or you may even be one of the meal skippers who frequently skip meals due to lack of time and options.
Regardless, according to Oregon State University, college students are not taking anywhere near recommended daily servings of fruits and vegetables.
In fact, on average, they eat ZERO serving of fresh produce.
The same study also revealed female students eat less fiber and less fresh produce than male students.
Eating healthy while in college is clearly a challenge that haunts many students.
But, it doesn’t have to.
Eating healthier is easier than you think.
Whether you are frequent cafeteria diner or light cook on a budget, there are delicious, dirt cheap, super easy recipes you’d love to eat and make.
Not only they are mouth-watering good, they are super healthy, fast and easy to pack for on-the-go college life.
Today, I have 9 of those real treats across all three meals and more. Here is my list of 9 healthy and easy recipes for college.
- Strawberry Banana Smoothie
- Protein Banana Pancakes
- Turkey Bacon + Eggs, Spinach, Avocado Sandwich
- Yogurt Parfait
- Kale chips
- Quinoa Tomatoes Black Beans Salad
- Avocado Tuna Salad Wrap
- Cilantro Lime Chicken with Fresh Avocado Salsa
- One-Pot Chicken, Quinoa, Mushroom & Spinach
They are nutritionally balanced and full of super foods that help curve out hunger, sharpen your brain performance, and feel good eating it (unlike ramen noodle that only bloats you after).
So let’s dive in.
Breakfast arguably is the most important meal of the day. It’s proven.
A healthy breakfast is essential to a productive day research shows.
The effect of breakfast and academic performance in school attendees is also well proven.
In the past, we discussed breakfast consumption is associated with positive outcomes for diet quality.
Yes, breakfast eaters eat fewer calories, weight less and even have lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Evidence is showing a morning meal (healthy kind) can also positively affect learning in a sense of behavior, cognitive, and school performance.
A study published in the Frontiers in Human Neuroscience reported that students who eat breakfast have better concentration during school hours than those who don’t.
The study shows that eating breakfast every day can improve mental performance and math score. Students who eat breakfast also participate more in class discussions and are better able to handle complex problems in class and get better grades.
In particular, a breakfast containing a balance of protein, complex carbs, and healthy fat boosts school performance for the remainder of the day.
So here are a few easy and yummy recipes that get you started on the right foot every morning.
1. Strawberry Banana Smoothie
There is nothing easier than blending up a healthy, filling and delicious smoothie.
Especially in the busy mornings, getting your breakfast done under 3 minutes may be just the thing that gets you in class on time, before your professor walks in.
And you can do that with a healthy and nutritious banana smoothie.
The best part? You can also enjoy your delicious and filling breakfast in class.
And its awesomeness doesn’t end there.
While any healthy smoothie would do the job, quite frankly (and we have a list of smoothies here), I really love this one recipe in particular and find myself repeatedly making.
It’s my favorite of all, strawberry banana smoothies.
Here is the recipe.
- 1 cup frozen strawberries
- 1 small banana or ½ large banana
- 1 cup coconut water or milk of your choice
- 2 tbs Greek yogurt
- ¼ cup rolled oats
- 3 carrot sticks
- 2 tbs peanut butter
It’s loaded with protein, fiber and healthy fats. Because it has oats, it’s also so filling that one drink can easily last you till lunchtime.
And it’s quite budget friendly and easily accessible.
To save more money, if in season, buy fresh strawberries. If not, buy them frozen. They both work great for any healthy smoothie.
Greek yogurt can be pricey, I admit. That’s why it only makes sense to buy a larger container.
It not only contains more, it helps you snack better by always having some on hand. You can also use it to make Yogurt Parfait, I’ll introduce later in the snack section.
Make sure to always buy 'plain Greek yogurt'. Flavored, vanilla, and honey yogurt are often loaded with sugar. Skip those and go with plain.
Also smoothies are so easy to experiment and very forgiving.
Don’t have any strawberries but you got some peach or pineapple? Great! They can be used as substitutes.
Don’t have any yogurt but have ½ avocado sitting in your fridge? Awesome, avocado is also a great way to add texture and creaminess to your blended drink while packing in loads of healthy fats.
Options are endless.
To cut your search time down to zero, grab our list of delicious, super easy and healthy smoothie recipes. They are our top favorites.
Give them a try and let us know which one hits home to you.
2. Protein Banana Pancakes
I love smoothies and that’s my number one on-the-go meal, but if that’s not your thing, don’t sweat. We got other options—perhaps something most people love and know how to make—pancakes!
It’s the comfort food everyone loves.
But when made as is, it’s nothing but a flat cake of simple carbs, the very thing that makes you sleepy and tired right after breakfast.
Instead, this recipe’s gotten a clever twist. It’s got the tweak every college student needs when making a pancake.
It’s in the flour.
Instead of using simple, white bleached flour completely void of nutrients, use other more nutritionally valuable flours and powders to make your pancake truly rock.
The best part is - it’s still as easy to make as your regular pancake. It’s just got the nutritional upgrade and taste booster that you’ll love and can’t resist.
Here is what you need for your perfect protein pancake.
- ½ cup grounded oats
- 1/3 cup egg whites
- 1 scoop protein powder
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Mix all ingredients up and cook on a non-stick skillet over medium heat.
It’s also great as a post-workout meal.
3. Turkey Bacon, Egg, Spinach, & Avocado Sandwich
Another simple dish that can’t be over-emphasized for its nutritional value is bacon and eggs. It’s all American. It's nothing extravagant, but it’s as good as it gets.
After all, mama knew what’s good for us.
This everyone’s breakfast staple is truly one of the best breakfasts you can ever eat.
By adding some avocado, spinach and spelt bread toasts, it’s a perfect on-the-go breakfast sandwich.
It’s got the perfect balance of macronutrients with tons of quality complete protein to boost you through your morning.
And if you are wondering if it’s really ok to eat bacon, let me tell you that the answer is a big "Yes", but I guess you can say that it’s a conditional yes.
Bacon can get unhealthy, depending on how you cook it.
But with a clean cooking method like baking, it’s a wonderful protein source you can enjoy guilt-free. (Here is an article I covered on "how to cook bacon the healthy way" and bacon's serious health benefits.)
Between the turkey bacon and eggs, you get about 19 grams of high quality protein, which is about 41% of the daily recommend protein intake based on a 2,000 daily calorie diet.
You’ll also get important vitamins, like vitamin B12, B2, B5, Vitamin A, as well as mineral such as Selenium from the eggs and bacon.
Spinach is also quiet a "super food”.
This leafy green vegetable is loaded with nutrients and powerful antioxidants.
Adding spinach to your morning breakfast is a sure way to load up on fiber and vitamins. And let's not forget, spinach is one of the best sources available for vitamin K.
One cup of boiled spinach can supply you with 1100% of your daily value of vitamin K!
Spinach is also one vegetables found to be high on carotenoids, which the body can convert to vitamin A.
Spinach also contains vitamin C, which is a powerful antioxidant that promotes healthy skin and immune function. You’ll also get calcium, iron and folic acids on top of everything else already mentioned.
- 1 large egg
- 2 medium slices turkey bacon
- 2 cups baby spinach
- 1 cup avocado
- 2 tbsps of coconut oil
- 2 slices of spelt bread
- 1 slice of Swiss cheese
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line 1 rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and place the turkey bacon strips flat.
- Bake until crisp and browned about 15 to 18 minutes. Once ready, transfer the bacon strips to towel to drain the oil.
- Heat 1 tbsp of coconut oil in skillet and saute the baby spinach until wilted. Do the same for an egg.
- Toast the spelt bread and spread both sides with the crushed avocado. Put a slice of cheese on one side.
- Lay egg on bottom of the toast and top with spinach. Cover spinach with the turkey bacon and seal with the other toast.
Image credit: livelighter.org
Snacks are inevitably the essential part of your college life.
Depending on the semester and class schedule, you don’t always have a lunch break during those normal lunch hours.
Most likely, the spare hour you have between classes is too early or too late to eat a proper lunch. And that’s why healthy snacks are so important.
More better snack options you have, less likely you go to your class hungry with less focus. It’s a way to keep your mind sharp and stay focused.
While most of your friends may be just grabbing a bag of Cheetos, you know better that those junk foods only add pounds to your weight.
Plus, it does nothing to support your hunger and health.
Instead, grab these healthy, delicious and on-the-go snacks you can eat between your classes or eat in class.
4. Yogurt Parfait
Image credit: vegkitchen.com
This power punch snack is all you need to refuel before your next class.
This filling, sweet and flavorful yogurt parfait layered with protein-rich creamy Greek yogurt, heart healthy old fashion oats, super-food chia seeds and antioxidants berries on the very top is a nutritionally balanced delicious snack to eat any time of the day.
It not only makes you feel happy eating but your belly will be perfectly satisfied. For convenience, make 4 to 5 individual cups, so you always have them ready in the fridge whenever hunger strikes.
And note that this recipe calls for Greek yogurt, specifically.
Greek yogurt is a highly nutritious source of quality protein, calcium, and potassium. It also provides numerous vitamins and minerals and is relatively low in calories.
Yogurt also contains probiotics, which is thought to be good for our gut and help maintain the balance of bacteria that are necessary for a healthy digestive system.
Some of the most common ones found in yogurt are Lactobacillus acidophilus, Lactobacillus casei and Bifidus.
Another benefit of Greek yogurt is its high protein content. It has twice the amount of protein as regular yogurt for half the sodium, so it’s kind to your heart.
Just 1 cup of Greek yogurt contains 120 calories but provides an impressive 22 grams of protein. It’s a great way to boost your protein intake.
Greek yogurt is also very high in calcium providing 25% of the Daily Value.
But you’ll want to avoid buying Yogurt Parfait outside, specially the pre-made ones. They are nothing but a cup full of sugars and calories.
Not a great option for someone trying to eat healthier and/or wanting to lose weight.
Save yourself all the calories and sugar by using this heart healthy recipe to make your own at home.
Berries (blueberries, tart cherries, blackberries and strawberries, raspberries) are all amazingly delicious and healthy for you.
They’re considered as heart healthy foods, because they’re rich in nutrients, antioxidants and phytochemical which may help keep your memory sharp as you age.
Raspberries particularly contain ellagic acid, a compound with anti-cancer properties.
You just can’t go wrong with eating berries.
All berries are great source of fiber, a nutrient that is thought to be important for a healthy digestive system.
I know old fashion oats have a rep for being bland and tasteless, but that’s only when you eat it plain by itself.
Oats are super heart healthy and when prepared well, it can also be delicious.
Oats are well-known as a good source of soluble fiber, the type of dietary fiber linked to lower blood cholesterol and a decreased risk of diabetes.
Since female students don’t eat enough fiber per previous data, every opportunity to take in more fiber is valuable.
Oats also contain a high concentration of insoluble fiber.
According to a study published in "Nutrition Reviews", a diet that includes a high intake of foods providing both soluble and insoluble fiber help prevent weight gain and obesity, stroke, high blood pressure and heart disease.
1/3 cup serving of uncooked oats contains 3 grams of dietary fiber.
To make this delicious yogurt parfait, you need the following ingredients.
- 1/2 cup of cooked oats
- 1 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsps chia seeds
- 1 cup mixed berries
- 1 tsp of Honey (optional)
- In a cup (a portable one if possible), layer all ingredients in the order listed.
- Top with berries and drizzle honey at the end if preferred. Other toppings like coconut flakes, flax seeds, and hemp seeds are all healthy and add flavors and textures to your parfait. Feel free to add them!
5. Kale Chips
Another healthy snacks is "kale chips”, and it’s my favorite.
Kale is super nutritious and healthy for you. It’s actually one of the healthiest foods you can eat for optimal health.
It’s loaded with all sorts of beneficial nutrients, which we covered greatly here in our post benefits of kale. Needless to say, some of which have powerful effects on you health.
Let’s quickly see how healthy kale really is. One cup of raw kale, which is about 67 grams or 2.4 ounces contains:
- Vitamin A: 206% of the RDA (from beta-carotene).
- Vitamin K: 684% of the RDA.
- Vitamin C: 134% of the RDA.
- Vitamin B6: 9% of the RDA.
- Manganese: 26% of the RDA.
- Calcium: 9% of the RDA.
- Copper: 10% of the RDA.
- Potassium: 9% of the RDA.
- Magnesium: 6% of the RDA.
Then it contains 3% or more of the RDA for Vitamin B1 (Thiamin), Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin), Vitamin B3 (Niacin), Iron and Phosphorus.
But none of this really matters, unless you can turn leafy kale into something you’d be happy to munch on often.
So, let’s see how to turn this super food into a healthy snack without destroying the nutrients that makes it a powerhouse.
How to make kale chips
I called this recipe minimalist kale chips for its simplicity.
- 1 bunch of kale
- 1 tablespoon of olive oil
- 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt
- Preheat an oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a non-insulated cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Now all you have to do is remove the ribs and stems from the leaves. Wash and thoroughly and dry kale with a salad spinner. Drizzle kale with the 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with ground black pepper and sea salt.
- Put them on a cooking tray and bake for 12-15 minutes.
The result? It tastes as good as potato chips, but only healthier. Pack them in a small container to take with you.
Healthy Lunch Ideas
One thing you don’t want as a college student is a mid-day crash.—Earlier we discussed the importance of eating a healthy breakfast to power you through the morning.
It prevents a dip in your blood sugar and accidental nap through the lecture.
A healthy breakfast gets you through the morning and a healthy lunch will power you through the rest of the afternoon until dinner.
This next quinoa (keen-WAH) recipe is all about that!
6. Quinoa Tomatoes Black Beans Salad
Quinoa pronounces, as keen-Wah has become quite a hit amongst health conscious eaters. I’m sure you’ve spot fitness models and yogi eating a plate full of quinoa on Instagram before.
It’s one of the world’s most nutritious foods you can eat and well considered a super food—for its high nutritional value.
This nutrient dense food is packed with minerals, about 50 percent of your daily value for a 1 cup serving.
Quinoa is also protein-packed, gluten free, and high in fiber (about 12 g of fiber per serving. We need about 25 to 30 grams per day according UCSF Medical Center).
This grain is one of the few health foods that contains all of the nine essential amino acids that the body needs to make important enzymes to support your body’s functions.
Another mineral iron, is also important for blood health, and magnesium which helps with bone and heart health.
It also contains other potassium, calcium, phosphorus and B-vitamins, vitamin E.
The fiber and the protein from this healthy quinoa recipe will keep you feeling full all day until dinner.
- 1 cup cooked quinoa
- 1/3 black beans
- 1 small tomatoes
- 1 scallion, sliced
- pinch sea salt
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- Lime juice
- Ground black pepper
- Rinse the quinoa using a fine-mesh strainer to get rid of the bitter coating on the tiny seeds. Other wise it’s going to leave a bitter taste
- In a medium saucepan, combine the 1 cup of quinoa with 2 cup water. Cook over medium heat until water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Set aside.
- In a medium bowl, gently toss all the ingredients to combine, topped with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, line juice and mixed all together. Serve in a plate and enjoyed.
Optional you can add any meat of your choice on top.
This recipe is originally from Health.com: Energy-Revving Quinoa.
7. Avocado Tuna Salad Wrap
This recipe is perfect for on-the-go and incredibly easy to make.
Fish is among the healthiest foods you can eat—packed with powerful nutrients such as protein and vitamin D.
Fish is also the best source of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids have been proven to improve brain and heart health.
Tuna, particularly albacore tuna is one of the healthiest fish among them all, very high in protein, low fat, and zero carbs.
With 1 can of albacore tuna, 2 oz (56g), you’re looking at about 3.5 grams of fat, 13 grams of high quality protein, only 90 calories, and zero grams of carbs.
In addition to the quality marine protein, you’d get some good quality carbs from the veggies and the spelt tortilla to make the wrap.
This avocado tuna wrap is not only healthy but tastes amazing. In fact, it’s so yummy that you’ll want to have it almost everyday for lunch –guaranteed!
Here’s what you need.
- 1 can albacore tuna
- 1 ripe avocado
- 2-3 tablespoons onion, finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons celery, finely chopped
- 2-3 tablespoons tomato, finely diced
- 1 tablespoon line juice
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 handful of spinach or other leafy green
- 1/2 cucumber
- 1 spelt tortilla wraps
- Open a can of tuna and place in on a medium saucepan with a 1/2 teaspoon of garlic and the 1 teaspoon of olive oil. Cook over medium heat. Stair for 1 to 2 minutes.
- Remove the tuna from the pan and place it in a medium bowl. Mix the tuna with a 1 tablespoon of the Paleo mayonnaise, chopped celery, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
- Spoon the tuna salad on a wrap with the leafy greens and a few slices of avocado. Serve and enjoy.
You can make several of these ahead. That way, you have a week worth of healthy lunch in your fringe waiting for you.
Whether you are grabbing dinner from the dinning hall or making a dish in your dorm room, you can certainly eat healthy if you just know how to pick and put together a balanced meal.
Here, I’d like to introduce two of my favorites.
The first one is something you can easily pick up from the cafeteria (giving you make the tweak yourself) and second one is a dish you can make with no cooking skills.
Let’s dive in.
8. Cilantro Lime Chicken with Fresh Avocado Salsa
Image credit: frugalmomeh.com
College life does not have to equate to sucky, cheap foods.
Yes, you may be a broke college student (and that’s ok. I was there once), but there are numerous fabulous dinners you can make on a dime.
Better yet, if you have a dinning hall pass, most likely, you can pick up all ingredients from the cafeteria food bars and repurpose them for a fancier, more appetizing meal.
All you need is a piece of grilled, oven baked, or pan-fried chicken and a few fresh items from the salad bar.
- 1/2 avocado
- 2 tbsp cilantro
- ½ onions
- 3 romaine tomatoes
- 3 2/3 tbsp lime juice
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- salt and pepper
All you need to do is chop all ingredients (other than chicken) and mix them up. Drizzle olive oil and squeeze some lime juice out of fresh lime. Season it with salt and pepper to make salsa.
This is the easiest salsa you can ever make, and if you are picking up all your ingredients at the salad bar, you might just be able to whip them up on the spot since all vegetables are pre-chopped! How cool is that!
The last step is to top the chicken with spoon full of the tomato salsa and enjoy!
This is so flavorful and actually very heart healthy.
Tomatoes are not only a rich source of vitamin C, it also contains antioxidants such as lycopene, a carotenoid pigment.
According to whfoods.com, tomato consumption has long been associated with heart health and has shown to help lower cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides.
And lime is another health food known to benefit everything from weight loss, digestion to skin care.
Last but not least, avocado is another super food, which many of you are avoiding out of fear of upping the calorie intake.
But don’t be intimidated by the 160 calories ½ avocado brings to your plate.
Harvard Medical School reported a medial study such as JAMA Internal Medicine study endorses a healthy diet easy on red meat and includes generous amounts of plant foods that deliver healthy mono-and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
A diet as such has been known for its links to lower risks of heart diseases, cancer and other chronic conditions.
9. One-Pot Chicken, Quinoa, Mushroom & Spinach
This is totally my kind of cooking, the kind that you can hardly call "cooking".
My lazy self yelps for those laid back recipes, and if you ever have those days you feel nothing but eating comfort foods without actually doing much cooking, this is the one to try.
And the nice part is, once you make a pan full, you have leftovers for 2-3 days.
Or if you are having a dorm room dinner get-together with your friends, it also serves as an awesome family-style party food that truly wows the group.
It’s one dish that’s super easy to put together, but looks so damn that it just knocks everyone’s socks off. I just love that.
Let’s also not forget, it’s gluten free.
So here is the recipe.
- 6 boneless, skinless chicken thighs, trimmed
- ¾ tsp crushed, dried rosemary
- ½ tsp smoked paprika
- ½ tsp salt
- ½ tsp ground pepper
- 2 tsp olive oil, divided
- ½ yellow onion, chopped
- 8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups low-fat chicken broth
- 1 ½ cups sliced spinach leaves
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- Mix rosemary, smoked paprika, salt and pepper, and coat the chicken.
- Cook the chicken for about 2 minds on each side in a large skillet over med-high heat with coconut oil. Remove the chicken from the pan to a plate.
- Put another teaspoon of olive oil in the same pan and add the vegetables and mushrooms. Cook for about 4-5 minutes until they are tender.
- Add the quinoa and broth into the skillet and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken back to the pan on top of the quinoa and cook until the broth is all absorbed. Also make sure the chicken is fully cooked, about 15 minutes.
- Stir the spinach into the quinoa. Serve with the chicken. Season to taste.
According to CookingCanuck, the recipe provider, there is about 257 calories per serving, 24.8 grams of protein and 2.9 grams of fiber. Fat is about 7.3 grams.
I also love that quinoa is used in place of rice.
According to Sylvie Tremblay, SFGate writer, quinoa is a better source of iron and magnesium than brown rice and contains slightly more fiber (2.6 grams compared to 1.9 grams in brown rice) and 4 grams of protein compared to 2.5 grams in rice.
Spinach as you know is also a superfood your body can’t get enough of. It’s one veggie that’s loaded with tons of nutrients in a low calorie package.
Not widely known, but it’s high in protein ("3 grams of protein in 1/2 cup, of plain, boiled spinach"), iron and antioxidants. In particular, alpha-lipoic acid, an antioxidant is known to lower glucose levels, increase insulin sensitivity in diabetic patients.
With 29.1 million diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes in the U.S. per CDC data, the power of the antioxidant found in spinach’s is truly a valuable one to more college students than we realize.
Take Home Message
There you have it!
That concludes 9 easy recipes for college students.
I hope this recipe list inspired you to cook and eat a healthier food that not only supports your health, but your academic performance and mental health.
They also help greatly in not falling into the Freshman 15 phenomenon, and keep your weight in check as you go through one of the busiest and hectic time of your life.
Do you have any other favorite recipes you’d like us to share?
Have you tried them and found a better tweak and easier way of preparing those dishes that are better suited for college students? Leave us a comment below to let us know! We’d love to hear it and looking forward to your feedback!