As a parent or caregiver, as you prep your kids for moving away from home for the first time, have you thought about their nutrition? At this time of year, the dietitians at our practice are often having discussions with our clients transitioning to post-secondary school residence or an apartment.
Here are some of the most common nutrition issues facing university students and what you can do as a parent or caregiver to help them with sound, healthy habits.
Issue 1: Navigating the residence cafeteria
Take the time to review the cafeteria menu and vendor options on campus (often online or can be sent to you by e-mail) together. Ask kids about their course schedule and when meals and snacks might work best for them. Since ultimately you have no control over their eating choices, talk to them about what they could do versus what they should do.
Remind them that they could choose to eat something every three to five hours (after all, nutrition experts say this is best for weight management as well as optimal energy, productivity and concentration at school).
Remind them they could choose a balanced meal for breakfast, lunch and supper that includes three components; firstly a grain or starchy food, second vegetables or fruit, and third a source of protein.
Carbohydrates (grains, starches, fruits and veggies) will fuel their brain with energy and protein (meat, poultry, seafood, legumes, eggs, nuts, seeds and dairy foods) offer satiety, and sustain energy longer.
Plant the idea that all foods fit and that there are no bad foods, just bad overall diets. Campus offers plenty of choice, and the key is balancing out indulgent choices such as french fries, desserts, and beer with plenty of vegetables, fruit and water.
Issue 2: No residence room food backups
Seek a residence room that has a sink and allows a small bar fridge. This will not only allow your students to prepare healthy convenient breakfast items and snacks, but can also save on the cost of eating out.
Top choices to stash in a bar fridge:
• Easy to prepare and eat fruit such as grapes, apples, oranges, pears and berries
• Milk or calcium fortified beverages such as soy, almond or rice beverages
• Single serving yogurt, Greek yogurt and cottage cheese
• Pre-sliced cheese (often found in the deli section)
• Hard cooked eggs (often found in the egg section pre-prepared)
• Cream cheese, raw veggie dip, hummus, nut butters and jam
• Pre-cut or easy to eat raw veggies such as stir-fry mixes, baby carrots, grape/cherry tomatoes and snap/snow peas
• Freezer: unsweetened frozen berries and mango pieces
Other foods to stash in a residence room:
• Dried fruit such as raisins, apricots, cranberries, dates, prunes and figs
• Unsweetened applesauce cups and bananas
• Trail mix, pumpkin seeds and nuts such as almonds, cashews, peanuts and pecans
• Hemp hearts, chia seeds and ground flax seeds (to add to oatmeal, cereal and yogurt)
• Granola, oatmeal and high-fibre breakfast cereals
• Whole grain crackers
• Energy bars, protein bars or dried fruit and nut bars
• Rip and ready pouches of tuna (no draining required) or mini cans of flavoured tuna
• Whole grain sliced bread or English muffins, pitas or bagels
Issue 3: Poor shopping and meal prep skills
If your kids will be moving into an apartment, don’t take for granted that grocery shopping, budgeting, meal planning, and cooking basic meals and snacks are easy.
Think back to when you moved out for the first time and some of the struggles you had. Many of our clients describe roommate challenges and buying either too much or not enough to get by. Keeping to a budget and not wasting food can be hard if you haven’t done the shopping before and are dealing with new stressors and a busy schedule at school.
Consider booking your son or daughter with a dietitian for support (plus, sometimes advice coming from an expert is better received than mom or dad). Help your kids at the start of the year by setting up their kitchen with basic spices, condiments, and the essentials for making their first week of meals and snacks. Help them make a budget, reusable grocery-shopping list (phone app or paper) and send them copies of a dozen of simple family favourite supper recipes.
While of course they could do this on their own, don’t underestimate how your help and reminders of easy ideas of what to cook can set the stage for healthy habits for the year to come.