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Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Eating Well


Calling all college students! There are quick, easy and healthy eating options for you

Ellen Schuster, M.S., R.D., Associate State Specialist, Curriculum & Staff Training Coordinator, Family Nutrition Education Programs, Nutritional Sciences, University of Missouri Extension


Don’t have a stove or oven? Don’t despair! Here are some quick, easy and healthy ideas:

  • Make a fresh salad with canned beans, greens, nuts and dressing. For a complete meal, have tuna or salmon in one-serving pouches, whole-wheat crackers, canned or fresh fruit and milk.
  • A quick and filling meal could include canned soup, whole-wheat crackers with a single serving of hummus and milk. Another meal option is a mozzarella stick, canned three-bean salad and milk.
  • Tasty soup options include canned soup or chili. Add a fresh salad or baby carrots with hummus, fruit and milk for a complete meal. If you don’t have time to make a fresh salad, add canned vegetables to the chili.
  • Top a fresh salad with grilled or oven-roasted chicken strips, include fruits and milk to make this a quick meal.
  • Combine fresh or frozen fruit, yogurt and fruit juice for a breakfast smoothie. You don’t need a blender — just put ingredients in a jar and shake vigorously.
  • Wrap it up! Take a whole-wheat tortilla and canned beans, greens, chopped red pepper and salsa. Serve with canned fruit and yogurt to make a complete meal.


If you have access to a stove or oven, here are some more quick, easy and good-for-you meal ideas:

  • Baked potatoes are filling and a good base for healthy toppings. Choose sweet potatoes for the vitamin A, add salsa and frozen vegetables. Add fruit and milk to make it a full meal.
  • Boil hot water and add whole-wheat couscous to it. Couscous is very small pasta and only takes a few minutes to cook. Add chopped red pepper, chopped onions and other vegetables or canned beans. You can also add dried fruit or nuts for a different flavor. Choose milk or juice for a beverage.
  • Leftovers from last night’s supper are quick and easy. Add fresh vegetables to leftover pizza and heat. Serve with a salad, fresh fruit and milk for a complete meal.
  • For breakfast, try a whole-wheat frozen waffle topped with yogurt or fruit, or have oatmeal topped with fruit.
  • Stir-fry meals are quick and easy — and you control what goes in the dish. Include pasta, stir-fry vegetables, beans, lean poultry or other meat. Serve with fruit and milk for a complete meal.


What about frozen meals?

Frozen meals are often high in calories, fat and saturated fat — and low in calcium and fiber. How healthy they are depends on your daily calorie intake, how active you are and what else you eat during the day. A general guide for choosing a frozen entrée is about 300 to 400 calories per meal. Frozen meals are processed and have high amounts of sodium. When looking for frozen meals, try to choose ones that are low in sodium — 800 mg or less is best.


Try to find frozen meals that have a lot of vegetables and whole grains, which contribute fiber and other nutrients. Frozen meals are notoriously low in fiber, so try to find meals that have at least 3 to 5 grams. Stay away from foods that have been dipped in batter or are covered in sauce — they have more fat and calories. Bowl meals may contain more vegetables, but they probably also have more pasta or sauce.


Many frozen dinners aren’t satisfying because the serving size is too small. Adding foods with volume and fiber like vegetables, fruits or whole grains to frozen meals will satisfy hunger longer and add missing nutrients. One way to bump up the nutrition of your meal is to add a salad or other vegetables, or whole-wheat bread or crackers.


One frozen food option available is a stir-fry meal, which has vegetables and meat, poultry or fish. Don’t overlook trying stir-fry meals on your own — you can choose the ingredients you like, control the calories and increase the vegetables and whole grains.


If you are looking for the healthiest frozen meals, consult a website like You can also search sites like to compare different frozen meals. Be aware that food formulations change often, so information on the Web may lag behind what you see in the grocery store.


What about frozen dinners marketed as light or healthy?

Light can mean many things on a label — it may mean one-third the calories or half the fat or sodium of regular food. Light can also be used to describe color or texture which may not relate to calories, fat or sodium. A healthy food must be low in fat and saturated fat, and contain limited amounts of cholesterol and sodium.


Why eat healthy?

Forming good eating habits as a college student may help form the basis for how and what you eat later in life. Eating fruits and vegetables boosts your immune system and helps ward off illness, calcium helps you build bones to avoid problems later in life and eating breakfast contributes to academic performance. But, don’t forget that food is to be enjoyed! Eating and preparing foods with others builds community and can help alleviate the stress of college life.



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Last update: Monday, August 30, 2010