Off to college? Some tips from me, to you

Even if you’re not going to college . . .

I love Target, I really do. They’ve made some headlines lately with the person pretending to be a Target team member on Facebook, responding in a way that I found amusing, to people who are all bent out of shape that they are removing gender specific signs in toy departments and whatnot. I’m not bothered by this change, I think kids should play with whatever they want thats age appropriate and safe. So what if your daughter wants a Hot Wheels car, or your son wants a Barbie. Let them be kids! Let them explore. I didn’t force gender specific toys on my son. He had sports related toys, tools, and a kitchen set when he was a wee little one, and he loved it all! He’s 22 now, and he writes about sports, but he is also handy in the kitchen.

Back to Target. I love Target. Its further away than Walmart for me, but I’d rather shop there because its generally a much better experience, and I think a lot of their products are better quality and more my style. For instance, I just got two lamps that are pretty much identical to lamps I could get at Pottery Barn (I want to live in their catalog) for a FRACTION of the cost! But Target back to schoolI digress–looking at the Target ad is always a Sunday highlight for me, so when I got this weeks ad an saw this? I was a bit thrown. Oh Target, dear Target, are you implying that college kids only eat junk and processed foods? This doesn’t have to be the case. While some of these foods are yummy–I grew up eating Kraft mac and cheese and still adore the neon orange weirdness to this day, and Doritos? Does anyone not like Doritos?—they should not be staples in your diet, and they don’t have to be!

Like I mentioned earlier, my college age son is an ace in the kitchen. He finds recipes he likes and he cooks from scratch, so thanks to him, and some recent changes I’ve made in my own life, here’s my letter to you.

Dear student, You’re off to college, so I assume you can read. I’m also going to assume you can follow directions, so I believe you, too, can cook from a recipe! Can’t follow directions? its time to learn! Don’t have a full kitchen at your disposal? That’s ok. However, if you have enough to cook boxed mac and cheese or a frozen pizza? You have the equipment to cook real food, too.

Why should you bother, you say? You’re young, healthy and active and never put on weight. Well that might not last forever. The one thing that you will have for the rest of your life? Your body. You need to take care of it. How do I know this? Because I’m old enough to have a college age kid, and I watched my mom slowly die from a disease that could have been controlled or possibly reversed had she given a shit about what she was eating. Its a harsh reality. Trust me. You don’t want to live it.

How do you eat healthy on a college budget? How do you cook when there’s so little time because you have to study, possibly work, and of course there’s parties. Don’t fret! I’m going to give you a few tips!

  1. When you go to the grocery, look for whole foods. What does this mean? Fruits, vegetables, whole grains. The perimeter of the grocery is usually the healthiest. There are a few exceptions, of course. Oatmeal (I’m talking steel cut or old fashioned-not the quick cooking kind) is usually in the aisle with cereal. Oatmeal is SO great to have around because you can use it to make overnight oatmeal! No cooking required! You probably have a pinterest, right? Search for recipes on there, or even on google. You’ll find plenty! The take a couple minutes to throw together, you can make several days worth at once. You can make it in bowls or mason jars, you can use whatever kind of milk you like. You can add stuff like chia seeds (protein and healthy fats!), nuts, and top it with fruit. You can eat it cold, or heat up what you want. Most days of the week, this is my go to breakfast. Some days, I make it with cocoa powder so i have a chocolaty breakfast! Also, nut and seed butters will probably be down one of these middle aisles. The ones low in sugar and added oils are excellent because they provide protein and not much work.
  2. Eat fruits and vegetables. So your parents didn’t make you eat them growing up because it was easier to let you eat what you liked and not fight you? I understand. Raising a kid is tough. My son, Zach, used to eat anything and everything when he was a toddler, but once he hit school age, he got picky and started refusing foods he once liked (gotta test boundaries somehow). We had a “you must eat one bite” rule when I was growing up, and I did the same with him. He remained resistant on many things, still is with some things, but he’s opened his mind a lot. You’re going to college to learn, right? Expand your mind? Why not expand your palate as well? You can buy pre-washed salad mix, pre-washed and cut fruits and vegetables. They’re making it easy to use them, you guys!  Fruits and vegetables are not only good for meals, but they make great snacks! Will you like everything you try? No. I, to this day, dislike lima beans, and I have an old, dear friend who hates green beans, but that doesn’t mean we shun all vegetables! Don’t forget, you can also gets good veggies and fruits in the freezer section.
  3. Herbs and spices are your friends, along with healthy oils and vinegar. Salt is fine too. If you have high blood pressure, you should watch your sodium intake, but when you’re cooking your own foods, foods that come from whole sources that don’t have added salt, its easy to control your sodium intake! Salt brings out the natural flavor in food, so don’t shut it out completely. You can use oil, vinegar, herbs and spices to make salad dressing thats much better for you than anything you buy pre-made. You can find recipes for these too. You can make your own ranch dressing without ranch seasoning packets too! Did you know Hidden Valley Ranch has MSG? That’s probably something you like to avoid in your Chinese take out, so you should probably avoid it in your salad dressings, too. Guess we know what they’ve been hiding in that valley now, don’t we?
  4. The most basic rule to follow when you’re shopping for food is to read the ingredient list. It should be relatively short and simple, and it shouldn’t be loaded with things you cannot pronounce or that you use to make things explode in the chemistry lab. If sugar, or any of its aliases, is one of the first few ingredients, look for an alternative. Not that all sugar is bad, but its one of those things you want to eat in moderation. Look for natural sweeteners like honey and maple syrup. I’ve read coconut palm sugar is not a bad alternative, either. Generally, the less processed, the better.
  5. Do yourself a favor and give up the soda and energy drinks NOW. Learn to drink water if you don’t already, because a dehydrated body is a tired body. Don’t want to pay for bottled water? I’m fine with that. A lot of it isn’t any better than tap water anyway. Don’t like tap water? Get a Britta (or similar) filter. You replace the cartridge about every six months, so its probably cheaper than bottled in the long run. Need caffeine? Try coffee or one of the MANY kinds of tea that are out there. I bet there’s a coffee and tea shop on or near your campus where you can try all kinds of new ways to consume caffeine! Just don’t drink soda, ok? Coke removes rust from metal. Do you really want to drink that? You may think its impossible to cut it out if you’ve been drinking it for most of your life, but its not. I had been drinking soda longer than  some of you were alive when I gave it up, and I haven’t looked back. Diet soda isn’t an alternative, either. Those artificial sweeteners are just as bad if not worse than all the sugar in regular soda. oh, and while I’m being a buzzkill, pre-bottled juice isn’t so good for you, either. Makes your blood sugar spike. You’re better off eating the whole fruit or vegetable, or getting fresh juice.
  6. There are plenty of yummy things to snack on that aren’t Doritios or potato chips. Nuts, seeds, yogurt (get plain yogurt and add your own sweetener and fruit or whatever you want). Want something sweet? Eat some fruit. Want chocolate? Go dark! Dark chocolate has polyphenols (good stuff!), and some even call it a “superfood.” One of my rules for life is to never waste time or money on lousy chocolate, so go for something 60% or higher. A small portion can be very satisfying.
  7. Look at what’s on sale and plan your meals ahead when you can. Cook meat to add to salads or sandwiches once or twice a week. If you have yummy, wholesome food around, you’re less likely to go out spending money on fast food, because you’re making your own fast food! If you’re eating in the school cafeteria, stick with the most natural foods they have.

Its pretty simple when you get right down to it. It may take your palate time to adjust if you’ve been eating a lot of processed foods, but your body will thank you in the end. College should be a place where you expand your horizons, not just learn skills or facts that will get you a job. Plus, you’ll have more energy naturally when you eat whole foods. Its also ok to grab a bag of Doritos, or eat some Kraft Mac and Cheese once in a while if it feels good. Just remember this one word–moderation. Moderation is the key to eating well. You can trust me, I have experience with this, but that’s another blog entirely.

Now go! Have fun! Always read the instructions before starting a test, don’t drink and drive, remember that its ok to say no, and when someone says no, it means no! No does not mean yes, and yes does not mean anal. If some frat guy says that to you, walk away. I don’t care how damn cute he is, just walk the fuck away. Finally, you’re paying for school, most likely, or if you’re lucky enough to have a scholarship, someone else has paid for it. Don’t waste your (or their) time and money! Go on now and grow, you beautiful monster!

With love, light, concern, and respect,

–Heather

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