It’s that time of year again. The students are going back-to-school. For us, it’s a big year. Our middle son is moving into his first apartment (well, grungy house) and unlike his first year, there’s no cafeteria. He’s going to be feeding himself.
I have concerns. Boys. Food. They like to eat. But they don’t always like to make it.
When our daughter was in the same boat I wasn’t as concerned. But I should have been. When I’d visit her apartment all I’d see were pizza boxes. And packages of salad. Can girl live on that alone? Maybe, but boy certainly can’t.
Compounding the situation is my son’s schedule. He’s a science guy. Neuroscience to be exact. 30+ hours of class a week plus volunteering in labs (doesn’t include study time). AND he is in a frat. AND he wants to get a job. All that means no time for cooking. This boy needs brain food which means less ramen and more protein, fruits, veggies, and whole grains.
To make sure that he eats right—on his budget and within his seriously stressful schedule—I booked an appointment with a Loblaws in-store nutritionist. I’ve written about this free service before, so I knew that taking an hour or so and shopping our local store with her was a good decision.
Boy was it the right one.
Thanks to Rowena Leung, my guy has a plan that includes nutrient-dense, fast and easy meals that he can make while and inbetween classes and studying. Thankfully, she sent us on our way with a pile of great tips plus a stack of recipes. As we walked through the store, my guy learned about reading nutrition labels, how to use the Guiding Stars program to make better choices, and what foods will give him the most bang for his bucks.
Here are some of Nutritionist Rowena’s top tips for healthy eating for students:
- Cheaper isn’t always better. You can stay in your budget and make good choices too. Use the Guiding Stars on the shelf labels to help you. For example: if spaghetti sauce has no stars then it’s loaded with sugar and salt, and not worth it, even at $0.99. Try to find one with at least 2 stars, and if it’s on sale, all the better.
- Look for interesting recipe that are healthy and that you can make a lot of. Extra points if they cover more than one food group, such as chili, soups, or stews that have protein and veggies in them.
- Frozen meatballs are a great option for protein. Throw them into student-standard spaghetti with tomato sauce and you have a quick and complete meal.
- Dried lentils have tons of nutrients. They cook in 20 minutes, so add them to rice to give your carb an extra punch.
- Don’t be afraid to use time-saving products, such as grain blends or frozen sides. There are lots of great options from President’s Choice Blue Menu. Think quinoa, wild rice, and Freekeh.
One of the keys to maintaining a healthy diet is to keep it interesting and varied.
Ben was encouraged to:
-Incorporate all different kinds of vegetables, such as spaghetti squash,zucchini, kale, sweet potatoes, and avocados.
-Get a spiralizer (they’re under $15 at Supercentre) to make zoodles (zucchini noodles) and other fun foods. Adding these ‘spiral’ veggies to pasta will bulk it up so that he can keep to a recommended carb serving size. It will also make sure he gets his vegetables in, which is always a concern with students on-the-go.
Try different fresh pastas such as those available in the Loblaws Deli section. Stuffed pasta are low in sodium, not too bad when it comes to carbs, and are ready in 3 minutes. Top with a good quality tomato sauce and some cheese and he’s covered in no-time flat, and with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch.
Pink or red fish: Try to eat these around twice per week. Since they’re so high in Omega-3s, they’re literally brain food. Frozen is as good as fresh, and its a cheaper and much more convenient option. Wild salmon such as sockeye has more Omega-3 but also more mercury. Farmed fish is the opposite, having a little of each will keep him on the right path.
Shrimp and mussels: high in protein, both of these seafood items are perfect for treat and cook in no time at all. Since he’s 19, Ben can make the mussels in white wine, garlic, and tomato and impress everyone.
Avocados: high in vitamin E and potassium, avocado is a much better bet than bananas. Teens and young adults can eat up to one avocado a day. Her favourite preparation, besides in salads, as guacamole or on toast, is to mix one avocado with a tin of tuna. Avocados can also be used anytime you’d use a nut butter
Sardines: these little fishies are so healthy, if you can stomach them. They’ve got calcium, Omega-3, Zinc, Iron, and protein
Greek Yogurt: We all know that this one is high in protein and calcium. It’s a good idea to watch for the flavoured ones as they can have a lot of sugar.
Rowena also created a display with a sample meal plan so Ben could see what a day of food might look like.
Breakfast: Steel cut oats (she gave him a recipe for overnight oats so his breakfast is ready when he wakes up), plus protein such as almonds, 2 eggs, or some peameal bacon. Note: she blanched when he said he eats up to 6 eggs at a time, which is too much cholesterol, even for a growing boy.
Thin bagel or wholegrain toast with almond butter or cheese plus an apple or banana
Lunch & Dinner: Since student schedules are not consistent, Rowena told Ben that these two meals can be interchangeable. She suggested pasta with zoodles or spaghetti squash for one meal, and for the other, fish, chicken or beef with one of his favourite grain sides and a salad or steamed vegetables.
- Don’t be afraid to experiment with interesting recipes. What’s the worst that could happen?
- Bananas should be no larger than the length of your sunglasses)
- When choosing crackers, pick ones that have more than one Guiding Star. Triscuits and Kashi crackers are tasty options and are loaded with fibre. Premium Plus are great for soups, but they dont’ have as much nutrition
- If you’re so inclined, soups and chili in a slow cooker are light on labour and long on taste and nutrition
- Stock your pantry with flavours you love. Ben chose a whole bunch of spices, hot sauces, and other condiments. That way, when he’s pressed for time he can season up a piece of chicken into something special. He also got oils and vinegars (including coconut oil), and cooking spray, and some canned goods like tomatoes and beans, and his favourite granola bars.
- Get a couple of multi-tasking small appliances such as the aforementioned slow-cooker. We’re also sending him away with a Breville indoor grill (stay tuned for a recipe and review next week) that he can use to make everything from grilled cheese to hamburgers and everything in between.
Do you have anything to add? Any other questions for Rowena?
Note: This post was sponsored by Loblaws and President’s Choice. I was kindly provided with a gift card to stock my son’s pantry in exchange for its writing. All opinions are my own.