As a Dietetics major and full-time college student, I believe that I have had some success with sticking to a balanced, nutritious diet. However, I know firsthand how hard it can be to adjust to a new chapter of life. Food might be the last thing on students’ minds when they move to a new town, but it is exceedingly important to remember one’s diet, especially during major transition periods. A good daily routine was easy to follow while I lived at home because I had a constant supply of ingredients and fresh produce to use whenever I wished. In a house of five people, everyone shared in the shopping and cooking responsibilities and I never realized how big of a task this would be on my own.
Then, in August of last year, I moved from my hometown to Northern Illinois University, to study Nutrition, Dietetics, and Wellness. The biggest adjustment was not only learning to live alone, but also learning how to navigate a healthy lifestyle in this new environment. For that reason, I wanted to share my experience with this, and it is my hope that someone else may benefit from reading my story. I believe that there is no better way to learn something than to figure it out firsthand.
When I arrived at my empty apartment, I had the opportunity to start from scratch. My clean cabinets and fridge were like a blank canvas and it was my job to fill them with something beautiful, in this case, food. I decided to fill my cabinets with some non-perishable staples as soon as I moved in. This was a crucial time for choices because I could have just as easily filled my living space with unhealthy options. Some easy to make items that I purchased were whole grain rice and pastas, as well as a variety of dried beans and lots of quinoa. I am glad that I took that first step, because these items lasted me throughout the entire semester and served as the base of most of my meals. I also filled my freezer with many pre-prepared and homemade options. Some of this included ground turkey, chicken, and of course some fun options like whole grain waffles and zucchini muffins.
Over the next few months, the challenges started to present themselves. Never did I think that peer pressure would take such a heavy toll on my ability to make good choices. As my friends ordered pizza and a plethora of fried foods many nights of the week, I found it difficult to continue eating from my own kitchen. This is probably the hardest part of university life to adjust to. However, I took the challenge in stride and decided that it was okay, and even good, to embrace a BALANCED lifestyle.
As a college student, I simply had to indulge, occasionally, on some of the treats and foodie greatness of my new home. Although on most days, I worked on my cooking skills and took advantage of having a personal kitchen space. Several of my classes focused on food science and cooking, so I was able to practice new dishes that were unknown to my family. I experimented with the ingredients and found new ways to satisfy my palate.
On the other hand, I also had the issue of having less fresh produce on hand. My parents were great by always making sure that we had brand new fruits and vegetables readily available at home. Most undergraduate students, like myself, are quite busy and don’t always have the time or money to buy new produce. Knowing this ahead of time, I made sure that I would always have a backup supply. I stocked up on canned and frozen varieties to make up for the missing fresh items. Although these items sometimes have a bad reputation, they are a valid option, especially if you can’t get your hands on new produce. These were just a few of the tricks that I learned during my first semester away from home.
Overall, the biggest lesson that I learned during this time is that balance is extremely important. The dreaded college weight gain horror stories likely come from the hard adjustment period between home and school life. All students must slowly get used to a whole new environment and habits. There is no “one size fits all” explanation to thrive while living on campus, but with some trial and error, I was able to find a routine that worked for me. Hopefully I will learn even more about myself this semester and I’ll be able to offer some new tips in May!
Guest post by future RDN Nicole Cirrencione