It’s that time of year again! Back to school!
Whether you’re a college student, or the mom of students, we all know that this time of year is the end of freedom and the beginning of chaos in the form of hectic schedules.
Between running kids to football, t-ball, ballet, gymnastics, boy scouts, or girl scouts, often times, quick and easy supersedes healthy, whether it’s breakfast, lunch or dinner.
In addition, we all know college life is the epitome of unhealthy habits. Between dorm life, limited resources, being crunched for time, all night study sessions, copious amounts of caffeine and/or alcohol, stress eating, limited funds....(did I miss anything?) eating healthy and prioritizing a balanced lifestyle is a challenge.
Buts it's just that, a challenge, and I know you're up to it!
With school coming up in a mere 3 weeks, I've decided to lay out my best nutrition strategies for success. Studies have shown that a balanced, nutritious diet and physical activity have a huge impact on school performance, by helping improve memory retention and cognitive function . It also means you’ll have the energy to keep up with the million demands being a parent brings. No matter if you’re a working mom, or stay-at-home mom, you’ve got your hands full!
After spending the last 6 years learning to juggle health and fitness, school, work and everyday life, I've learned a lot of tips and tricks to making a healthy lifestyle more achievable and maintainable.
Often times, taking an hour or two, 1-2 days a week to do some mass preparation can save you hours of work over the course of the week. Every minute counts! Meal prep is going to be your best friend.
- Protein: It doesn't have to be super elaborate. Rather, simply cooking up a week's worth of options (think grilled chicken, ground beef/turkey, fish, shrimp etc.) and either portioning them out into individual servings in snack baggies, or keeping them in a Tupperware in the fridge ready to go, will take out half your meal preparation time. All you have to do is throw some veggies together with some carbs and you're good to go! I like to either pick a flavor of the week (think different cuisines, Mexican, Italian, and Asian inspired spices) or I pick seasonings that are basic and then just add more through the week as I make each meal.
- If you're like me and prefer to not pre-cook all your veggies days in advance, pre-chop your veggies. Fill a couple Tupperware with enough chopped bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, onions etc. to last 3-4 days. That way you can take out 1 extra step each day, and just do it all at once.
- Another option is to pan roast all your veggies Sunday night with a little drizzle of olive oil and your choice of seasonings. You can either do enough for 3-4 days, or a full week.
- Pick a quick, easy nutritious breakfast that you can prep ahead of time. I currently make overnight oats. I fill a couple mason jars with oats, cocoa powder, a few chocolate chips and a scoop of protein powder (if I intend on eating it cold). Then, each night I add a handful of chopped strawberries and enough milk or water for the oats to soak in. If I intend on eating it hot (rather than the protein powder) I scramble some egg whites and add them on top. All in all, this takes me 5 mins each night, if I cook the eggs, less if I do the protein powder version.
- A lot of my clients have found they like creating egg muffins for quick and easy breakfasts. They scramble up enough eggs/egg whites for the week and then fill muffin tins (with some sort of non-stick liner) about 1/2-3/4 way. They then add their choice of fillings like bell peppers, onions, crumbled bacon, cheese, ham etc. and bake (click here for some ideas). Each morning they pop a couple muffins in the microwave and are on their way in >2 minutes!
- Make snack baggies for in/between meals! Throw together some carrots, celery, snap peas, apples, berries, trail mix (check serving sizes though!).
- Get a big water bottle! Studies have shown that dehydration leads to decreased energy and alertness, and well as increased caloric intake. People will often misinterpret signals of thirst for hunger, which easily leads to overconsumption of food. Drinking water throughout the day whether you're running back and forth between classes, or running to and from after-school events, will help keep your mind and body running at top speed.
- Skip the liquid calories; sodas, smoothies*, and juices can add up quick, and rarely leave you feeling full and satisfied. *If you make your own smoothie, throw some greens in there, add some protein powder, and use the natural sweetness of berries to sweeten your smoothie rather than adding extra sugar. Use fruit that is higher in fiber and lower in sugar to get a little more oomph in your drink.
- Protein powders & bars can be the busy person's best friend, but be careful. Oftentimes protein bars are simply glorified candy bars. During the time when I worked for a supplement store, I found Quest bars and Oh Yeah! bars were the most popular and have some of the better macronutrient profiles than others. Same goes for protein powder, make sure there's actually a significant amount of protein, and the carbs are <5g/serving. You want a PROTEIN powder, not a meal replacement powder.
- Smart pop/low cal popcorn bags or air popped popcorn is one of my FAVORITE snacks for study time. I'm one of those people who's a snacker, especially when I'm studying. So if you're like me, rather than going for the potato chips or cereal, keep some popcorn on hand. Now I'm not talking the greasy, sodium laden popcorn. My trick is a couple spritzes of olive oil spray and either cinnamon and some sort of sweetener or garlic salt, or whatever seasoning may strike your fancy!
Lead by example! Make the same healthy snack options for your kids as you would yourself. What mommy eats, they’ll want to eat.
If they’re old enough, get the kids involved in picking healthy meals, or even cooking with you!
Plan out the meals for the week before you even go grocery shopping. Plan to make enough each night to have leftovers for the following night, allowing you to cut your cooking time in half.
Just because you're limited to mini fridge and microwaveable meals outside of the food hall, doesn't mean your health goals are doomed.
Make/keep small snack packs full of veggies or fruit in your mini fridge. (Like mentioned above)
Overnight oats with protein powder is a great way to keep easy breakfasts on hand and ready. They don't even need to be heated up!
Frozen steamer bags of vegetable mixes are a super convenient way to get in your daily servings of vegetables.
For the food hall; repeat after me "just because you can, doesn't mean you should". Yes, there is ooey-gooey mac ’n cheese, burgers and pizza, but there's also salads, chicken, vegetables. It's up to YOU to make the sensible choice. Make a plan before you even walk in on what you're going to get, and stick to it! Ask yourself this, "Will option A or option B take me closer, or further from my goals?"
Got anything else to add to the list that you've found works for you?Let's hear them, leave a comment below!
Stay tuned, we'll talk exercise next!
 Gomez-Pinilla F, et al. Compr Physiol. 2013.