Learning to plan meals may be difficult for many Oregon State students as they transition from having meals prepared at home or in a more structured environment.
Mary Cluskey, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences, says techniques such as meal prepping and smart grocery shopping can help form healthy eating habits.
The benefits of prepping meals in advance
Erica Woekel, director of the Lifetime Fitness for Health Program, says those starting to meal prep should start slow by planning a few simple meals. Erica follows this mentality by planning dinner for each weekday.
“I usually try to have at least dinners planned for each day during the school week,” Erica says. “That’s always the hardest meal for me to cook or plan, so it’s easier to have it prepped and not have to do it the day of.”
Emma Wycoff, a second-year mechanical engineering major, found she was able to find a stabilizing routine by planning healthy meals. “Having a set plan for meals helps make my day a little easier,” Emma says. “It’s one less thing to think about and my food is ready when I need it.”
What to include in your meal prep
Erica suggests having a couple of meal ideas on hand that include lean protein, whole grains, fruits and vegetables, and being aware of the nutritional value of meals.
Erica says it is important to eat a diverse diet that includes all the necessary food groups and nutrients, despite what many popular diets advocate.
According to Mary, trendy diets such as keto, gluten-free and many others often cycle through society. She says these restrictive eating schedules often popularize misconceptions about healthy foods.
Erica says healthy food choices really boil down to focusing on food groups and making small improvements to foods you already eat. For instance, she says, including additional vegetables and proteins in instant ramen, a college classic.
Grocery shopping tips
Erica suggests shopping the perimeter of grocery stores as this is where protein, grains, fruits and vegetables are located. Erica says these food groups should be the main building blocks for meal prep.
Mary says frozen vegetables can be a great alternative to fresh produce as they are frozen in peak condition. “Fresh vegetables are already three to five days old when they get to the grocery store,” Mary says. “By the time they get consumed or cooked, they can be less fresh and nutritious, in terms of having vitamins and minerals, than if they were in a frozen package. It’s all about handling.”
Grocery Store Tours, an OSU program offered through the Lifetime Fitness for Health course, provides students with the opportunity to learn how to select foods that fit their dietary needs. Tours are tailored to meet the needs of students living in dorms or conditions where shopping and cooking can be challenging.