While most college students would agree that eating well is an important part of a healthy lifestyle, they often struggle to do so. Fast food, a low intake of vegetables and fruit, and erratic eating patterns are more indicative of college student eating habits, which leads to many health challenges for this population. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into typical college student eating habits and how they can be improved.

Fast Food Consumption

Fast food is readily available to college students, whether in their campus cafeteria or surrounding community. It’s fast and cheap. For busy students, it’s easy to grab and consume while navigating their day. Fast food restaurants off campus offer large quantities of food at low cost, which makes them appealing for hungry students on a budget. 

The alternative is for cafeterias to make healthy options as easy to grab and go as the less healthy meals. Pre-packaged salads, fruit and veggies, hard-boiled eggs, and protein boxes are a few ways to compete with the pizza, burgers, and fries. Putting bottled water near the cash register encourages this selection over bottled soda and sweetened beverages. This small tweak can improve college student eating habits significantly. 

Low Intake of Fruits & Vegetables

Fruits and vegetable consumption is often low for college students. Some may not have grown up eating them or, if they did, they are no longer “forced” to eat them if they don’t love them. With freedom of choice, these foods often fail to become a regular part of college student eating habits. They are not as appealing or as easy to eat as the alternatives in the cafeteria and are more expensive in fast food chains. 

To encourage more intake of fruits and vegetables, offer easy to grab options like apples, bananas, and oranges. Like bottled water, place them near the cash register so they are visible and enticing. Veggie cups with a dipping sauce are another good option. Include a side of vegetables with every entree so that they at least end up on a student’s plate to encourage better college student eating habits. 

Erratic Eating Patterns

Busy class schedules and late nights often lead to inconsistent college student eating habits. Without time to eat, meals are often skipped, especially breakfast. Late night study sessions lead to binge eating of less than healthy food in an attempt to compensate for skipped meals or the need to stay awake. Late night eating contributes to weight gain, difficulty sleeping, and digestive challenges. 

As much as possible, students should aim to eat three main meals a day. Prioritize a quick bite in the morning that includes protein. Fast options include greek yogurt, beef and cheese sticks, or hard boiled eggs. Carrying snacks like apples or oranges and nuts with you during the day ensures that you eat when you’re hungry, especially on overly busy days when a full meal isn’t possible. Try to avoid eating 2-3 hours before bedtime to prevent weight gain and promote better sleep. 

Overall, college student eating habits don’t support the health necessary to perform at a high level, physically, mentally, or academically. Improving eating habits happens with small changes and intentional effort to make conscious choices to support a healthy lifestyle.