Whether you’re new to Intuitive Eating or very experienced with it, you may often wonder, “What about food waste?” After all, when you start intuitive eating, you are told to start listening to your hunger and fullness cues and to honor your own preferences. This …
Thanks for joining me again for the seventh and final installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. This series is directed towards young adults who are just leaving home and entering the adult world whether they’re working, going to school, or doing both. If you’re new to this series, you will find links to all of the articles at the end of this post. In this post, I will recap what we’ve gone over so far and then talk about a few other topics that didn’t fit nicely into the previous posts.
First, I talked about the main challenges to good nutrition that you face when going out on your own, namely limited time, space, and money. The solutions to these problems include learning to plan meals and snacks, budget your money, manage your time, and learn some basic cooking skills. It sounds daunting, but if you take it one thing at a time and start simple, these are all skills that you can master.
To give you those skills, I next covered the basic principles of meal planning and then the similar topic of planning satisfying and sustaining snacks to get you through the sometimes long and unpredictable days. For meals, a simple strategy is to make sure that every meal has a starch, a protein, and a vegetable or fruit. Alternatively, just make sure each meal has foods from at least three food groups. Snacks can be similarly planned like mini meals, but you only need foods from two food groups, making sure that you have some protein, fiber, and carbohydrates.
Since time and money are of the essence, I next explained several strategies to enhance simple, inexpensive, convenience foods to improve their nutrition and taste. Even if it’s not 100% ideal, it can still be nourishing, satisfying, and less expensive than take-out. Try improving these inexpensive convenience foods by adding things like vegetables, beans, meat, and seasonings. Ramen noodles can become a tasty vegetable and leftover chicken stir fry instead of a plain, salty soup that only keeps you full for an hour.
In my next post, I covered many of my favorite strategies that I have used to eat well when time, space, and money are limited. These include buying only what can be eaten before it goes bad, always seeing what you have before you go shopping and making sure that you use it first, watching for sales on your favorite foods (but not being seduced by coupons or sales for foods you probably won’t eat), learning to cook simple and inexpensive foods, and sharing bulk items with others who have similar tastes.
Finally, in my most recent post, I went over the basics of vegetarian nutrition. That’s not necessarily because I think a majority of you will try out vegetarianism voluntarily, although some of you will. It’s mostly because meat is expensive and many of you will be “obligate vegetarians”. By knowing the basics of vegetarian nutrition, you can make sure that you get the nutrition that you need even if you are never or rarely eating meat. This might include eating complementary proteins, such as a legume (beans, lentils, and peas) and a grain, to get complete protein in your diet, and identifying iron-rich foods that you can eat so that you don’t become anemic. I also went over great ways to make vegetarian food satisfying so you don’t feel deprived just because there’s no meat.
Other challenges you might face and how to handle them
Navigating the Cafeteria
Most universities right now require incoming freshmen to live in the dorms and purchase a meal plan with the cafeteria. A lot of dorms don’t even have a kitchen, so you’re completely dependent on the cafeteria for your meals. This can be a big help with transitioning, but it has challenges all its own. It’s easy to over-do it when every day looks like a super buffet and you’re not used to listening closely to your body’s fullness cues. These may also be foods that you find unfamiliar or unappetizing. Here are my top tips for navigating the cafeteria:
Use the principles of meal planning that you learned. Make sure your plate/tray has a protein, a starch, and a vegetable.
Don’t feel obligated to try everything. It will still be there tomorrow…and the day after…and the day after… If you’re excited to try everything, pace yourself so you don’t make yourself sick or end up getting sick of it all.
Don’t feel obligated to clean your plate! Yes, food waste is a problem. But eating food that you are not hungry for is still wasting it! If you get to serve your own food, then take time to pay attention to how hungry you are and how much food you need to be satisfied. That way you’ll be throwing away less because you aren’t taking more than you need. If someone else serves you, you may have to get more comfortable with throwing leftovers away (unless you can take them home). If you over-eat every once in a while it isn’t necessarily a huge deal. You might simply find that you’re less hungry for a while after. But if you’re consistently over-eating meal after meal because you feel obligated to clean your plate, you’re going to find yourself feeling very uncomfortable and not performing your best.
It might not seem worth your time to participate in sports or exercise when you are so busy, but it will make a huge difference in how you feel and how you perform in your job, schooling, and anything else you’re dedicating yourself to. There is so much research showing the benefits to your brain, your mood, and your sleep that exercise provides. Those of you who were athletes in high school but won’t be going on to do college athletics may not be used to finding other ways to be active, but it’s important to keep up with it. And if you weren’t very active in high school, this transition time is a great opportunity to form new habits and reap the life-long benefits of an active lifestyle.
- If the thought of exercise makes you shudder, don’t think of it as exercise. Instead, think of it as movement or activity. It doesn’t need to be regimented or unpleasant. It just needs to get you moving.
- Find something that you enjoy! For me, it was the big band swing club. I still miss it! If you like doing yoga in your bedroom, go for it! YouTube is full of free yoga routines. If you like playing basketball, see if you can find a group to join or start a group of your own. Hiking, gardening, walking, ultimate frisbee, and swimming are just a few more options that you might think about. Try new things. You never know what you might end up enjoying.
- Start slowly. If you’re new to movement you don’t want to injure yourself. And jumping into it too quickly could leave you exhausted and feeling that you hate exercise. Take your time while challenging yourself and it will be much more enjoyable.
If you’re a student, take advantage of the resources your college/university offer to you. Your fees may have already paid for a gym membership at the fieldhouse and full-time tuition may be enough to cover an elective PE class.
Bike and walk to classes and work. This may not be enough by itself but it’s a great start. And walk briskly! That will get your heart pumping better than a regular pace.
Walking, running, and biking for exercise are almost free. Get some decent shoes (and helmet and bike if you’re biking) and hit the pavement. If you’re new to it, start slowly and build up.
Schedule it! If you treat it like an appointment, it’s a lot more likely to happen. If it’s always something that you can get to later, later may never come.
I know some of you have probably already experimented with this and I’m not here to scold you for it. I also know that you’re going to see a whole lot of this from here on out, especially with young adults. There is a LOT of misinformation about health and nutrition out there and a lot of it comes packaged as weight-loss diets or “wellness”. But the fact is, dieting doesn’t work and is incredibly bad for your health. For instance, did you know:
Only 2-5% of people who lose weight through dieting keep it off. Can you imagine anything else with a 95-98% failure rate being considered the golden standard of health and weight management?
About 2/3 of people who diet end up gaining more weight than they lost. This means that it actually does more harm than good. Most people who have been on diets for years would do almost anything just to weigh what they did when they went on their first diet.
Dieting is predictive of weight gain and developing eating disorders. In studies where researchers have followed people over time, including identical twins, they have consistently found that those who diet end up weighing more and being more likely to develop an eating disorder, even if they started at the same weight or have the same genetics as those who don’t diet.
Individuals who diet experience similar symptoms to people who have endured psychologically traumatizing events such as starvation. It kills your confidence and your relationship with food.
When you diet, it slows your metabolism and destroys your body’s muscle mass. Even exercising isn’t enough to combat this.
Dieting makes us dislike healthy eating and exercising. We start thinking that we only eat vegetables if we’re on a diet and they must be so gross that we wouldn’t possibly do it otherwise. We think the same way about exercise– it’s torture so why do it if you’re not trying to lose weight? In addition, trying to exercise when you’re not eating enough can lead to more injuries and cause us to believe that we hate exercise or that our bodies simply aren’t meant to exercise.
So instead of dieting, here’s what I suggest:
Focus on how you feel, not what you weigh. If I’ve been on the road a lot and had to eat out for most of my meals, I notice that I just don’t feel as well and I miss having more vegetables. You’ll notice a difference too if you pay attention. Focus on eating foods that help you feel satisfied and healthy.
Listen to your hunger and fullness signals. Your body came pre-programmed with a highly-specific, well-calibrated system for telling you when to eat, how much to eat, and when to stop eating. It’s not the same thing as seeing a commercial for pizza and thinking to yourself, “I could really go for some pizza!” It’s more internal and if you’re not used to it, it can take a while to learn your signals. But they’re there. Once I learned to tune into my own signals at the age of twenty, my weight stabilized and I no longer had to spend so much time and energy thinking about food and worrying about my body. It was liberating and empowering and still is! (For more information, I highly recommend the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. I am not being compensated for this plug in any way; I just really love their work!)
Be kind to yourself and be patient. Would you say the sorts of things to your friends or family members that you say about yourself? If not, take a step back and think about what you’re doing. Your body is a precious gift. It lets you taste, hug, learn, play, accomplish, and experience life in every other way. Show it some respect!
Don’t have forbidden foods. Unless you have a food allergy/intolerance or religious/conscientious objections, never say never! Registered Dietitian Kathleen Zelman was quoted in the Miami Herald as saying, “When a food becomes a never food, you obsess.” We generally want what we can’t have. This actually leads to MORE over-eating of the food. Conversely, when we give ourselves permission to eat whatever we want, there is no longer an urgent need to go over-board when we do eat it, because we know we can always have more. You may even find yourself leaving some of it behind because you’re full and you know you will have it again. (If this seems hard to believe, try asking people on diets what sorts of foods they would like to eat the most. If they’re being honest, it will almost always be one of the foods on the forbidden list.)
Best of luck to all of you as you step out into the adult world. You will do great. Happy eating!
OTHER POSTS FROM THE NOURISHMENT FOR HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES SERIES:
Welcome to the sixth installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. In the previous posts, I laid out several of the challenges that young adults face when first leaving home and how these challenges affect nutrition, talked about planning balanced, satisfying meals and …
Welcome to the fifth installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. In the first post, I laid out several of the challenges that young adults face when first leaving home and how these challenges affect nutrition. In the second post, I talked about planning balanced, …
Welcome to the fourth installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. In the first post, I laid out several of the challenges that young adults face when first leaving home and how these challenges affect nutrition. In the second post, I talked about planning balanced, satisfying meals using some basic patterns. And in the last post, I talked about planning balanced, satisfying snacks to help you get between meals and perform at your best all day (or night) long. In this week’s post, I’ll talk about how you can make the most of the inexpensive and convenient foods that most of you are likely to eat.
Cheap, processed food is going to happen (and that’s ok)
Obviously not every meal is going to be ideal. Your cooking skills, money, and time will probably be pretty limited in the beginning. Even if you intend to eat nutritious and fresh meals all the time, you won’t always be able to. Sometimes ramen noodles and PBJs will be on the menu out of necessity or just because you like them. That’s no reason to abandon good meal planning principles. Even the most humble food is better than no food at all and there are a range of options that you have to improve these meals both in terms of taste and nutrition.
Here are a few of my favorite strategies that I still use in my cooking to help make ordinary food a little bit better for me and more interesting. You don’t have to use every single idea at every meal. Experiment and see what works for you as you.
- Throw frozen vegetables into your soups, pastas, and casseroles. They’re convenient and already cut-to-size. They’re also nutritious! Since they were frozen right after harvest, they often retain more nutrients than the fresh vegetables that have been shipped half-way around the world.
- Put fresh or canned vegetables into your soups, pastas, and casseroles.
- Put a handful of spinach in your smoothies.
- Stack your sandwiches high with vegetables.
- Put extra vegetables on your pizza.
- Eat a salad on the side.
- Use beans instead of meat.
- Mix your meat or chicken with beans.
- Use salsa as a condiment.
Add Meat (or beans)
- Add chopped up leftover meat, chicken, turkey, fish, boiled eggs, or bean to soups, casseroles, pastas, baked potatoes, salads, and stir-fries.
- Put silken tofu in a smoothie.
- Top your nachos with some canned chili or refried beans.
Swap white for whole grain
- Use whole wheat bread instead of white (there are several inexpensive whole wheat options, just make sure that “whole wheat” is in the name of the first ingredient).
- Cook brown rice instead of white (just remember that it takes longer to cook).
- Use whole grain pasta, crackers, etc. (Some brands are better than others and suited for different purposes. For instance, I prefer to use whole wheat pasta in casseroles, but don’t like them so well as a plate of spaghetti. Experiment and see what you like!)
Use real cheese:
Yes, it’s a little more expensive. But it’s worth it if you can afford it. In my opinion it tastes better, so it satisfies my palette more. It is also full of protein, calcium, and other important nutrients that processed cheeses and cheese powders are usually very low in. It packs the flavor as well, so you shouldn’t have to use very much (the sharper the cheese, the more true this is).
- Make a grilled cheese sandwich with Cheddar cheese instead of American.
- Melt grated cheese over tortilla chips for nachos instead of using canned cheese sauce.
- Learn how to make cheese sauce from butter, flour, milk and cheese. Mac ‘n’ cheese will never be the same! (Admittedly, this takes more time, so it won’t always be an option. But it is worth it when you have the time.)
Spice it Up
- Add herbs, spices, and other flavorful ingredients to pump up the flavor, like cumin in your refried beans and basil on your pasta.
Examples of How to Enhance Some Common Meals
Macaroni and Cheese
Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich
|Add some tuna, chicken, or grated cheese for extra protein and flavor.||Chop up leftover meat or chicken and add to your bowl.||Make your sandwich with whole wheat bread instead of white.|
|Add a handful or two of your favorite vegetable, such as green peas or broccoli.||Add frozen vegetables while the noodles are cooking.||Use a generous enough amount of peanut butter to give yourself a decent amount of protein (think a couple tablespoons total). Then add a cheese stick, boiled egg, or glass of milk to pump it up a bit more.|
|Ditch the box and cook up elbow macaroni and a mean cheese sauce, then serve a salad or hot vegetable on the side.||Sautee some vegetables, scramble some eggs, drain the noodles, then mix them all together and toss in a little soy sauce for an easy stir-fry.||Grab some carrot sticks and apple slices (or whatever your most readily available raw vegetables and fruit are) and pack them to eat on the side.|
What are your favorite ways to add some nutrition and flare to simple meals? Leave your ideas in the comments.
OTHER POSTS FROM THE NOURISHMENT FOR HIGH SCHOOL GRADUATES SERIES:
Welcome back to the third installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. In the first post, I laid out several of the challenges that young adults face when first leaving home and how these challenges affect nutrition. In the second post, I talked …
Welcome back to the second installment of the Nourishment for High School Graduates series. In the first post, I laid out several of the challenges that young adults face when first leaving home and how these challenges affect nutrition. The main challenges are limited time, …
Transitioning from high school to adulthood is a rite of passage in the U.S. It is full of challenges and rewards, opportunities and pitfalls. Choices at this point in life can be profound and long-lasting, both for better and for worse. Navigating this transition well is difficult, but possible. In this series entitled, “Nourishment for High School Graduates”, I will offer my advice on how to meet the challenges of this transition to adulthood when it comes to feeding and taking care of yourself. While this advice is directed primarily towards those who will be moving away to attend a college or university, most of the advice should apply in many different life circumstances.
As a young adult fresh out of high school, there will be a whole world of new challenges for you. When it comes to taking care of yourself physically, the main challenges will probably be your limited time, space, and money.
- Time will be limited because most likely you will be furthering your education or training while also working part or full-time. In addition, you will want to pursue a number of new social opportunities and perhaps keep up with some old ones as well. If you are religious and/or volunteer, you will also have to make time for worship and service. And of course you can’t forget to stay in touch with the family back home. Even if other adults are busier than you, they’ve had a chance to adapt whereas juggling all of these new responsibilities and opportunities is new to you. Finding time to shop, cook, exercise, and otherwise take care of yourself can be tricky.
- Space will be limited because you will most likely be living with other people. Whether it’s a dorm room, a fraternity/sorority house, an apartment, or your parents’ basement, there will probably be other people around that you have to live with every day. In a few of the homes that I shared with roommates, there were six of us all sharing a regular-sized kitchen and refrigerator. In these tight living spaces, you will have to be very choosy and considerate about what you bring in and how you store it.
- Money will be limited for the obvious reasons: you’re just starting out, you don’t have a lot of time to work, and a high school diploma on its own doesn’t lead to high-paying jobs. Whether you’re going to school so that you can earn a higher salary later or slowly working your way up from an entry-level position, it’s going to be a while before you make a lot of money. This means that you probably can’t afford fancy groceries and pre-made meals or hiring a personal trainer. If you’re not used to cooking modest meals for yourself, this can be a really tough transition.
Several other challenges that affect your health and ability to care for yourself may also arise. If you are a student with a meal plan, you won’t have full control over what foods are available to you. You may experience tremendous pressure from peers to join in an unhealthy diet culture (or worse). Your stress levels may go beyond your current coping skills and make it difficult to prioritize healthy living. Work and school environments may not have enough opportunities for movement or make healthy food choices available to you. In short, the real world is tough and not always sympathetic.
The good news is that these new challenges are far from insurmountable. You will learn quickly and adapt. Here are a few of the basic strategies that I recommend for dealing with these challenges. Throughout the rest of this series, we’ll look at several of them in more depth.
- Learn the basics of nutrition, meal planning, and snack planning. Once you know about what your meals should look like for good health, it’s a lot easier to get there. This will help direct your shopping and food choices and help you sit comfortably with yourself knowing that you’ve given your body what it needs.
- Learn the basics of budgeting and shopping wisely. When resources are limited, you have to learn how to prioritize. Is it more important to pay rent or eat 100% organic? To pay your phone bill or order pizza? The answer may seem obvious when you’re asked directly, but if you’re not watching your money, you may well be choosing organic food or pizza over the necessities. With a simple budget you can learn how to set your priorities and still have the occasional indulgences when you can afford them. And learning how to shop wisely can help ensure that you make the most of the money that you have budgeted for things like food and clothes so that you can meet your needs without feeling deprived.
- Learn basic cooking skills. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef straight out of high school. However, learning the basics of food preparation will save you time and money, while enabling you to eat meals that not only taste better, but are almost certainly better for you. It may even help your social life and open up employment opportunities.
- Learn time management skills. Like budgeting money, time management involves learning to set priorities. Success in school, work, your social life, and your health are much more likely if you know how to organize your time and prioritize. That doesn’t mean always leaving fun things out or making them the lowest priorities. It means being intentional with how you spend your time so that overall you are much less stressed and more productive. While this is much easier said than done (time management is still hard for me), these are all skills that can be learned; and the sooner you learn them, the better. If you are in school, a school counselor may be able to help you with this. Otherwise there are many online resources that can help you manage your time effectively.
- Avoid the pitfalls of others. Just because your friends are binge drinking or crash dieting doesn’t mean that you need to as well.
With a little time, practice, and intentionality, you’re well on your way to becoming a healthy, happy adult. You can do this!
Other Posts in the Nourishment for High School Graduates Series:
I am a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) with a Master’s Degree in Nutrition Science. I studied nutrition, food science, and dietetics at Utah State University. I had my first two children while I was completing my Master’s program and I decided to stay home and …