By: Emily Tolino ’16, University Health Center Nutrition Peer Educator
A freshman enters the University’s dining hall for the first time. An upperclassman, fresh off moving into their first apartment, enters the grocery store armed with their allotted food budget for the month. In both of these scenarios, the bright colors and enticing aromas excite first time shoppers. The world (may it be the dining hall or grocery store), is their oyster. For the first time, food choices becomes an independent decision. Why then, do most students fall into the trap of choosing the same foods each and every week?
Entering the dining hall or grocery store “rut” is a very common occurrence for college students. When the semester starts picking up, classes, exams, projects, and extra-curricular activities can become very overwhelming! As busy as students get, food seems to take the backseat. It’s easy to enter the dining hall or grocery store and just grab what you know you like and what’s the most convenient.
Humans need a varied diet to ensure optimal health. In fact, eating a variety of foods has been the #1 recommendation set forth by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans for decades! By choosing a variety of foods, we are obtaining a variety of nutrients! Each nutrient serves our body differently and we need all of the nutrients (carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, and minerals) to keep our bodies and minds operating as efficiently as possible!
Here are 5 easy ways to include more variety in your diet:
- Get out of the chicken rut! Protein is an all-important nutrient. It is responsible for providing the building blocks for our bodies (muscles, skin, etc.). This food group is also a fantastic source of crucial nutrients such as iron (needed to transport oxygen in the body) and zinc (needed to protect your immune system!). Most students consume plenty of protein – but varying the sources of protein offers a wider array of nutrients. Protein is found in meat, poultry, fish, nuts, beans, and seeds.
Challenge: This week, try one new protein source! Examples include a tuna fish salad sandwich, roast beef, peanut butter on your morning toast, or a scoop of beans in your lunchtime salad!
- Check the colors! Next time you visit the salad bar or farmer’s market, check out the rainbow of fruits and vegetables available! Each color of fruit or vegetable provides a different profile of nutrients.
Challenge: Try to include at least three different colors in your day. For example, include an apple (red) with breakfast, a banana (yellow) with lunch, and broccoli (green) with dinner!
Double Challenge: Once you’ve mastered this, try to include a red/yellow/orange vegetable in your day (such as carrots or bell peppers!).
- Healthy fats are essential! There are some nutrients that the body cannot make on its own so it is essential to obtain them from our diet. Essential fatty acids are an example of a nutrient that we must get from the foods we eat. By consuming a variety of healthy fats, we provide our bodies with the variety of resources it needs to function optimally.
Challenge: Try to include olive oil, nuts, seeds, or avocado in your meals this week! Since each one offers a different array of essential fatty acids, try new ones as often as you can.
- Go one food group at a time! Don’t feel overwhelmed by the large number of food possibilities! Make a goal to try one new food each day.
Challenge: At the grocery store, try buying a new kind of fruit or vegetable. In the dining hall, check out the Chef’s Feature Meal; it’s on a rotating schedule so you can ensure different foods each day!
- Make a new meal or snack! Look online for ideas about how to combine foods to make a new meal or snack! Combine familiar foods with new ones and see how you like it! Examples of healthy snacks include apples and peanut butter, oatmeal with blueberries and walnuts, or a yogurt parfait! Keep trying new snacks each week.
Remember that variety is the spice of life! To learn more about how to include additional variety in your diet, reserve your session with a Nutrition Coach today by calling 301-314-5664 or UHC-Nutrition@umd.edu.