You’ve been admitted to school. After much searching, you’ve managed to find a place to live with roommates that you can probably tolerate, and you went out and bought yourself a computer. You might think that you are prepared to begin your post-secondary adventure, but you’re not. There is at least one more purchase that you have to make before school starts. You need a blender. Really. And not just for cocktail parties.
According to Julie Van Rosendaal, food writer, broadcast journalist and author of Starting Out: The Essential Guide to Cooking On Your Own, a blender is an essential appliance for every kitchen, especially for students who are looking for fast, healthy food on a budget. You can do so many things with them, from making soups and sauces to, yes, margaritas and pina coladas. “Best of all,” says Van Rosendaal, “you can make smoothies.”
Smoothies are, in her opinion, a miracle food. “They are quick and easy to make, portable, incredibly nutritious and a great way to use up any leftover or slightly dated or imperfect looking fruit that you may have lying around the kitchen.” Toss in a banana and some yogurt and you get lots of fibre, carbohydrates and potassium. Throw in some berries and you get your antioxidants.
The benefits don’t end there, Van Rosendaal adds — you can disguise other foods in smoothies to help get the vitamins, minerals and other nutrients your body and brain need to perform at peak capacity. “If you add as little as one teaspoon of flax oil — you won’t taste it — you will get more Omega 3 fatty acids than you would get from eating salmon for dinner,” she says. Or you could really go out on a limb and add some tomato paste to your smoothie —your smoothie will seem slightly sweeter than usual, and you will have managed to increase your intake of lycopene. Pour it into a travel mug and you have breakfast to go.
Of course, you could forego the smoothie and just grab some fruit, if you’re really pressed for time. Fruit is ideal, because it is already prepackaged. The essential point is that your mom was right: you have to have breakfast. You’ll not only feel better if you do, your brain will also function much better and you’ll learn more. Other things Van Rosendaal suggests trying are muesli or granola with yogurt, nuts and/or fruit. What you shouldn’t do is get in the habit of relying on things like commercial breakfast cereals, bars or muffins. Muffins — “essentially a cupcake rebranded in order to make us feel good about eating them” — are high in fat, sugar and calories. The same thing can be said for breakfast bars and energy bars — in this context, says Van Rosendaal, energy is just another term for calories. On top of that, these items will take a big bite out of your budget.
You’ve had breakfast. You’re at school and you’re hungry again. Grazing, as opposed to having a set meal, is one option that Van Rosendaal approves of, and one of her earlier books is all about that method of eating. She recommends foods that are high in fibre, protein and healthy — that is, complex — carbohydrates, which provide the energy that your brain needs without the sugar rush and subsequent crash that comes from refined sugars. “Dried fruits and nuts are an ideal choice for the student on the go because there is little chance that they will spoil. You can safely leave them in your backpack and not worry about discovering a new form of life growing there.”
One thing student should really avoid is pop, says Van Rosendaal. “It’s nothing but empty calories.” The same logic applies to fruit juice — you are far better off drinking milk or water. And don’t even think about those fancy flavoured caffeine drinks like iced mochaccinos. “You may as well just purée a Big Mac and drink it,” she warns.
If you’re more inclined to choose a traditional lunch over grazing, Van Rosendaal suggests bringing it from home, which lets you control both the portion size and the type of food you eat. A whole wheat pita sandwich with a peanut butter and banana filling is tasty, nutritious and cheap — just make sure that it is whole wheat, says Van Rosendaal. Marketers have taken to labelling products “wheat” flour, which is code for processed white flour. You may as well eat the packaging. Or, you might want to bring some raw vegetables to eat. Choose brightly coloured vegetables and mix them up to make your food more appealing and increase your chances of eating it — this will also ensure that you are getting a wide array of vitamins and minerals in your diet.
Finally, be sure to include some fat. Yes, that’s right — you need it to absorb the vitamins properly. “Milk is good. Flax and canola oils are great. Olive oil, too, is a reasonable choice,” says Van Rosendaal. She suggests making your own salad dressing using lemon juice or vinegar, spices and canola oil, and then putting it in an empty wine bottle in the refrigerator. You can take some with you and use that as a dip for your vegetables. Or use yogurt.
Eating healthy while you are at school isn’t hard — it just requires a little effort and some time to plan your menus. Van Rosendaal says that if she had to give just one piece of advice to students, it would be: “If you don’t already know how to cook, you need to learn.” Get a good cookbook and try some of the recipes. Look into taking a cooking class if you have time. Roast and steam your vegetables. Avoid deep-fried foods. Choose lean meats. Read the labels. Above all: keep informed and experiment with different foods. You might find something you like.