FDHealthy FoodHow Students Can Develop a Healthy Relationship With Food — Syracuse University News
FDHealthy FoodHow Students Can Develop a Healthy Relationship With Food — Syracuse University News
Healthy Food

How Students Can Develop a Healthy Relationship With Food — Syracuse University News

When students begin their Syracuse University journeys, not only are they beginning their professional pursuits, they’re also in charge of what they eat and when they eat—a new experience for many students. Routine home-cooked meals are replaced with busy, varied schedules and a plethora of choices in the University’s dining halls.

It’s a big change for students, one that, if not handled properly, could set them up for a lifetime of potentially unhealthy decisions involving food.

A woman poses for a headshot in front of a plant.

Deirdre Smith-Howard

Thankfully, for students who are struggling to maintain a healthy relationship with food, the Barnes Center at The Arch employs two registered dietitian nutritionists: Deirdre Smith-Howard and Kristin Douglas G’04, who have plenty of advice for students to develop healthy eating tendencies from their first day on campus.

“It’s a big transition for students. The change can bring both excitement and challenges. Many students are leaving home routines where there may have been more structure around meals. Students are now responsible for their own schedules and carving out time for meals. “If students are not prioritizing meals, it can be easy to fall into bad habits where they may be skipping meals or eating out more frequently,” Smith-Howard says.

“There is so much that is new the first semester on campus, and eating in a dining hall is just one aspect of a student’s new reality. It’s a huge change and a different transition for each student, depending on their previous at-home food environment. “A student who hasn’t previously made many decisions about what to eat each day might find it difficult to get into a rhythm with their eating patterns,” adds Douglas.

Finding Balance

Here are some important tips for students to consider when planning their meals:

  • Smith-Howard recommends practicing good time management skills, finding ways to include a meal and/or a snack every three to five hours by keeping snacks on hand for busy afternoons and during long stretches when there are limited food options, including taking a meal to -go from the dining hall.
  • Douglas recommends eating three meals a day as an effective strategy for balanced eating, healthy digestion and optimal energy.
  • For students who feel overwhelmed by the wide variety of food options available in the dining hall, consult with the online dining menu ahead of time, incorporating a balance between foods that taste good and foods that are good for you, and mixing in an assortment of grains, protein, produce, fruits and vegetables with every meal.
A woman smiles for a headshot against a gray backdrop.

Kristin Douglas

“A healthy eating pattern is flexible and balanced and includes eating regular meals and snacks. Focus more on foods to include versus foods to cut out,” Douglas says.

“I often talk to students about ‘work foods’ and ‘play foods.’ Work foods are nutritious and support health by providing us with good nutrients. Play foods may not have a significant nutrient profile but they are foods we enjoy based on taste and enjoyment. “A healthy diet can include both fun and play foods,” says Smith-Howard.

Common Mistakes

Among the common mistakes they see students making: skipping out on meals, only eating a large meal in the evening, waiting until the last-minute to settle on a meal choice, eating while distracted (think popping potato chips into your mouth while binge- watching your favorite television show), and becoming too rigid with their diet that it negatively affects their physical and mental health.

What about the freshman or first-year 15, referring to the penchant for students to pack on 15 or so pounds their first year at college?

Douglas says it’s an “unsubstantiated notion that only serves to create added stress for students who are already going through an adjustment period. This concern can make eating even more difficult.”

Smith-Howard agrees that the first year of college is a “great time for young adults to practice self-care and create healthy habits around sleep, food and exercise. Mindful eating practices can also be helpful in establishing a healthy relationship with food.”

For students living off campus, Douglas stresses the importance of planning, shopping for and preparing their meals since “we often underestimate the time, effort and cost of preparing meals.” She recommends investing in a lunch box with a freezer pack, purchasing reusable containers to store leftovers, grocery shopping regularly and buying frozen fruits and vegetables.

If a student is struggling with food and dietary issues, the Barnes Center at The Arch offers one-on-one nutrition counseling sessions that do not require a doctor’s referral and are covered by the student health and wellness fee. To schedule an appointment, call 315.443.8000 or visit the online patient portal.

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