Nourishment for High School Graduates: The Challenges to Good Health and Nutrition
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!