How To Eat Well During Your College Years: An Interview With a UVA Nutritionist

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Melanie Brede                                                        Amy Chestnutt

This week we interviewed nutritionist Melanie Brede from the Elson Student Health Center here at the University of Virginia. Here is her helpful advice! Our final question was collaboration from Melanie and one of her colleagues Amy Chestnutt with the Eating Disorders Education Initiative at the UVA Women’s Center

1. What do you think are some basic food prep skills that every college student should know?

“Learning to cook is a process, and a good starting point is simply learning how to tell when a food is ‘done’. An easy start is pasta. Boil the water, stir in the noodles, and pull out a noodle to test every few minutes. You’ll notice the texture changes as the water gets absorbed. This is really useful for developing a sense of ‘timing’ and ‘how much’ for cooking in general. Read package instructions and recipe directions. As you get more confident with simple foods like pasta, cooking chicken or meat (or even fish!) become much less intimidating.”

2. What are the best kitchen appliances and utensils for a college student to buy while on a budget?

“Basic kitchen tools that enable you to make just about everything include: a chef knife (long, straight blade, about 8”), a serrated knife (looks kinda ‘saw toothed’), 1 or 2 cutting boards, measuring cups and spoons, a pot with a lid, a skillet, and a baking sheet. Put your money into the knives; for the other items, low to medium cost is adequate.”

3. What are some simple money-saving solutions when it comes to preparing your own food?

“Price is lowest when food is 1) in-season, 2) in quantity, and 3) minimally processed. For example, fresh berries are on sale in spring (1). A 2-lb bag of rice is cheaper per pound than a 1-lb bag (2). A head of lettuce is cheaper than a pre-bagged salad mix (3). It is important to keep in mind how often you shop, how much you storage space you have, and how much prep time you are willing to spend. For the best results, shop often for produce and stock up on non-perishables when they’re on sale. Split staple items with roommates. Also, be a savvy shopper. Check unit prices on store shelves. Often generics are cheapest, even when the brand name product is on sale (even with a coupon!). Be aware of marketing ploys. Impulse items tend to be at the end of aisles and in check-out lanes.”

4. What are some simple time-saving solutions when it comes to preparing your own food?

“The biggest time saver is making enough for planned leftovers. One-pot meals, such as soups and chilis, freeze well, so you can eat some now and some later without tiring of the same dish. Grilling chicken? Put on an extra piece, and use the leftovers for a sandwich or salad at lunch the next day. A little planning ahead saves time down the road. Shop with a grocery list to avoid extra trips to the store.”

5. What are some foods that a college student can eat to help boost energy?

“Eating patterns play a big role in energy. It is appropriate to get a meal or snack about every 3-5 hours. Make balanced choices by including a source of protein (meat, poultry, eggs, dairy, beans, soy, nuts), a starch (potato, bread, cereal, pasta, rice), and fruit or vegetables at each meal. Drink plenty of water; dehydration is often felt as fatigue. And make adequate sleep a priority…studying till you’re bleary-eyed is ineffective.”

6. Lastly, we asked Melanie and her colleague Amy Chestnutt with the Eating Disorders Education Initiative at the UVA Women’s Center: How can a college student avoid the “freshman fifteen”?

“The Freshman 15 is a myth! And guess where the term was first published? In a 1989 Seventeen magazine, not a research study. Visit this article from the New York Times for more info.”

Thanks Melanie and Amy!

Do you any questions or insights on eating well in college? Let us know in the comments!

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