It’s virtually impossible to read success guides for adult students without stumbling across a reminder to practice self-care. In fact, we’ve shared several posts on the topic. The food you eat gives your body energy. If you use low-quality fuel, you’ll quickly notice yourself feeling overwhelmed or finding it difficult to concentrate. But if you fill up on the premium stuff, you’ll have more energy to focus on classes and tackle the myriad challenges of daily life.
Most people think making healthy food takes too much time. You need to shop for it, prepare it, and store it. Compared to picking up some fast food or splurging on vending machines, this can feel daunting. Perhaps that’s why so many busy people say they just don’t have time to eat well. A 2012 study correlated working longer than 40 hours per week—as many adult students do, between work and school—with less time to prepare and consume healthy food.
You don’t have to sacrifice your health when going back to school. Here’s how to maintain a healthy diet even when you’re juggling many roles and responsibilities.
Why a Healthy Diet Matters
The American diet increasingly presents a paradox: healthy food is more abundant than ever, and therefore many people overindulge. Rates of obesity have dramatically increased over the past two decades, especially in college students. The average American consumes 24 percent more calories than they did in 1961. Yet many Americans remain deficient in vital nutrients. Twenty-three percent are at risk of anemia, and nearly a third are at risk of vitamin deficiencies. Thirty-two percent are deficient in vitamin B6.
Most Americans do not follow healthy eating guidelines. They eat too much sodium, which is abundant in processed and fast foods, and too few fruits and vegetables. The results can be catastrophic for health. Unhealthy eating patterns increase the risk of dozens of health conditions, including:
- Cardiovascular disease
- Type 2 diabetes
Some research even suggests that diet can affect mental health. Healthy eating may reduce the risk of depression and anxiety, or help you better manage the stress of daily life.
Common Barriers to Healthy Eating
A 2018 study that assessed eating habits in college students identified a number of barriers to healthy eating. Finding ways to surmount the obstacles below can help you adopt a healthy diet even when you have no time:
- Unhealthy snacking and high-calorie convenience food. When you’re hungry and need something to eat, it’s easy to turn to a vending machine. Try keeping some healthy options, such as nuts or dried fruit, in your car or bag instead.
- Time constraints. Eating healthy food does require a bit of planning and preparation, but healthy eating doesn’t necessarily have to take more time. It’s just as easy to grab a banana as it is to eat a bag of chips. Try stocking your house with low-effort healthy foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts.
- Easy access to junk food. When unhealthy food is available, it can prove incredibly tempting. Don’t buy food you don’t want to eat, and consider choosing restaurants that you know offer tasty food that’s good for your health.
- Cost of food. Healthy food is expensive, and this can be a major deterrent for adult students who are living on a budget. To put it into perspective, a full meal at a fast food restaurant may cost less than a few pieces of fruit, increasing the temptation to indulge in high-calorie, high-sodium fare.
Factors That Enable Healthy Eating
Healthy eating is its own reward. People who regularly consume quality food can expect to look and feel better. That may help motivate them to keep trying. The same 2018 study that looked at risk factors for unhealthy eating also identified the following strategies for promoting a better diet:
- Better food knowledge and education. Learning more about the benefits of healthy eating may help motivate better decisions.
- Advanced meal planning. When you pre-plan your meals, it’s easier to grab something healthy and go.
- Involvement in food preparation. Preparing your own food gives you more control over what goes into it. That means you can minimize the use of unhealthy ingredients while still prioritizing excellent flavor.
- Being physically active. When you treat your body like an important machine, you may feel more inspired to ensure it gets the best possible fuel.
Strategies for Maintaining a Healthy Diet
When you’re navigating the challenges of school along with work, childrearing, marriage, and more, your diet may be the first thing to take a hit. These strategies can help you fuel your body with nourishing meals no matter how busy you become:
Try a meal delivery service
If you can’t find time to make your own healthy meals, try a meal delivery service instead. Some services offer prepackaged healthy options, such as healthy smoothies from Daily Harvest or Splendid Spoon. Graze offers packaged, nourishing snacks—including high-protein options—delivered weekly or monthly. If you want to master the craft of cooking healthy meals on your own but can’t find the time to browse recipes or make a grocery list, try a service like Blue Apron, which delivers all the ingredients to make delicious and healthy recipes.
Make grocery shopping easier
When you’re strapped for time, shopping for groceries can mean the difference between getting in a nap or a quick yoga session and spending the day fighting lines at the local supermarket. Many grocers now do the shopping for you and then allow you to pick up your purchases without even leaving your car. Others will deliver food right to your door, sparing you the annoyance of shopping, waiting in line, and loading up the car. Home-delivered groceries also eliminate the temptation of impulse purchases, such as unhealthy snacks.
Master a few simple recipes
You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to eat well. Instead, try mastering a few simple, healthy recipes that you can make in 20 minutes or less. Scrambled eggs and avocado toast on whole grain bread offers plenty of fiber and protein, while a hearty salad with a side of salmon or tuna is low-calorie and heart-healthy. Perfect the meals you enjoy, then plan a weekly schedule around them.
Pack healthy snacks
Snacking is the downfall of many aspiring healthy eaters. Make it easier by packing some healthy options each day. Some trail mixes, nuts, dried fruit, and similar options travel well. A cooler filled with fresh fruit may last through the day, and frozen smoothies are easy to thaw and enjoy on the go.
Prepare meals in advance
When you have to think about and plan meals every day, it can feel daunting. Instead, commit a few hours on a single day each week to meal planning. Put all of the ingredients for healthy meals or snacks into individual containers, then store them in the refrigerator or freezer so that they're ready to go when you’re ready to eat.
Don’t deprive yourself
Most research shows that traditional diets, which are based on deprivation and strict calorie counting, don’t work. Instead, healthy eating requires choosing a plan you can stick with for life. Don’t ban cookies or cakes, or forbid yourself from ever again indulging in a single bag of potato chips. Instead, prioritize balance over time. Replace as many unhealthy foods with healthy options as possible, then indulge periodically. This way, healthy eating feels like a part of your daily life, not a regimen of self-inflicted misery.
Don’t reward yourself with food
It’s tempting to reward hard work with a dietary splurge. Some people even reward weight loss with a “cheat day.” But making food into a prize sets up a dangerous association in your mind. It makes not getting the food reward feel like a punishment. This intensifies the challenges of healthy eating and can trigger unhealthy attitudes toward diet.
SNU believes in creating programs that don't require students to choose between their health and their studies. That’s why we offer versatile academic options and schedules, including online-only classes that give you more time with your family and a chance to eat healthy meals. To learn more about what sets us apart, contact us today!