CF Scoop: The College Edition
With summer coming to a close, many college students will soon be heading back to school. For freshman students entering their first year of college, not only will they be navigating an unfamiliar campus, making new friends and joining clubs, but they will also be fending for themselves when it comes to meals and nutrition - some for the first time. Commuters - students who will live at home but spend long days on campus - will need to plan their meals and snacks before they are on campus. Students living in dorms or campus apartments will need to do the same, but eat all of their meals and snacks on campus. For students living on campus, mom's delicious spaghetti and meatballs and Dad's famous stir fry will not be on the table waiting for them at dinnertime. For people with cystic fibrosis (CF), diet is very important and organizing healthy and satisfying meals are crucial. Here are my top tips for college students with CF looking to make their diet work when away from home:
When I asked some college students what their advice is for people going off to college I was given some great ideas:
If you are commuting to school you may want to get a meal plan to cover the time you are on campus.
Carry snacks in your backpack. Examples are: nuts, peanut butter and crackers, canned, high calorie shakes. See "Grab and Go" for more ideas.
If you are living on campus, always get the best meal plan available, even if you are living in an apartment. A meal plan will help you stay on target even if you are planning on living in an apartment and doing your own cooking. You may find that you just do not have the time to shop and cook. Having the meal plan as a backup is very important.
Keep easy to prepare foods that can be warmed in a microwave in your dorm room or apartment. Foods such as canned pastas, instant oatmeal, boxed milk, and peanut butter are quick fillers if you get hungry between meals or late at night. Even high calorie nutrition drinks can come in handy.
In the Dining Hall
A meal plan will give you many food and drink options so you will have to be extra smart about what you're eating to make sure that you're getting enough calories to keep your body going. Look for foods that are high in calories and protein and rich in vitamins, minerals and fat. Examples are: cheeseburgers, macaroni and cheese, vegetable pizza, salads topped with meats, cheeses and dressing. Additionally, desserts and sides high in calories like milkshakes, cooked vegetables with butter or fruit pie topped with ice cream are great high calorie dishes that will also give you energy for the long days juggling school work and fun activities.
If you plan to cook some of your own meals, food shopping may fall to the bottom of your to-do list and classes, homework and Ultimate Frisbee stay at the top. However, planning and preparing meals does not have to be difficult.
The key is to plan ahead with these simple tips:
- Use a calendar to plan your meals and snacks for a week or two in advance. Use this template shopping list to keep your shopping trips quick and focused.
- Try to remember to not go shopping when you're hungry as it usually means that you'll buy items you don't need and are not healthy for you.
- Stock up on staple foods that are easy to cook like eggs, pasta, cheese, peanut butter and canned soups so you can always pull a meal together easily. Buy some high calorie frozen meals, they will come to your rescue when you need a fast meal.
- Cook a big meal on the weekend and freeze it in portions so you can eat it if you don't have time to make it to the dining hall. CF-friendly chili, lasagna and hamburgers are all meals that are high in calories and nutrients that also freeze well. These easy to reheat meals will become staples of your diet especially during finals week when you're busy studying around the clock!
Have CF Recipes on Hand
If you're living in an apartment or if you are a commuter and want to do some of your own meal preparation, the idea of cooking can be both intimidating and exhausting after a long day of classes. Don't let it psych you out! Instead have some yummy CF-friendly recipes on hand. The CFChef online cookbook is a great resource that has many breakfast, lunch, dinner and snack options. One favorite of all college kids is macaroni and cheese. Try this recipe, Mac Attack, which provides extra calories and protein; perfect for those with CF.
The transition from home to college can be intimidating, but don't let it scare you. Know your dining hall, plan ahead and use CF-friendly recipes to make sure you're healthy and satisfied at every meal. Your friends and family will be so impressed when you come home healthy and eager to share all your new recipes and cooking tips!
Suzanne Michel, MPH, RD, LDN
Clinical Assistant Professor, Medical University of South Carolina
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