Eating healthy as a student can be a difficult task. It’s easy to live off 2-minute noodles or from the loose change menu at Maccas. However, it’s important to maintain a healthy diet, which can bring many benefits including raising your academic performance, and reducing depression.

Dr. Tanya Lawlis, Associate Professor of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Canberra, runs cooking classes with students on campus, aiming to teach them valuable information on nutrition and how to maintain a healthy diet.

She has also constructed cookbooks, which are given out at the classes, for both local and international students to help guide them on nutrition and where to buy healthy foods.

Dr Lawlis shares some of her best tips for students when it comes to eating healthy.

Trying to balance study, work and finding the time to eat regular meals is often a problem for students – do you have any tips on how to manage eating with a busy schedule?

  • Cook in bulk so extra meals can be frozen and defrosted/reheated when busy with assignments and exams. Keep an extra meal for lunch the next day.
  • Have healthy snacks in the cupboard and your bag so you can eat between classes, for example nuts, small yoghurts, apples, oranges, berries and other fruit depending on season.
  • Plan weekly meals and make time to go shopping on the weekend to buy food so you have healthy food in the cupboard to make the healthy meals.
  • Do a cook-up on the weekend – cook a couple different recipes. Separate into containers, label and freeze.
  • Make sure you take a break from studying – use this as your meal break. Your mind needs a break and refuelling.”

If you have an early start, pack your food the night before.

For example, have your breakfast ready to go. See our yoghurt cups in the cookbook, these can be made separately containers the night before, then added together the next morning.

Take a frozen meal from the fridge and store in an insulated bag and use one of the microwaves on campus to reheat.

Students (especially those who live outside of home) often feel that having a healthy diet can be too expensive – what can students do to eat healthy on a budget?

Here are a few tips for buying cheap healthy food:

  • Go to the fresh food markets (such as Belconnen fresh food markets) on a Sunday afternoon as they often reduce the price of their produce. You can often get bags of produce for half the price.
  • Look for savings in the supermarket catalogues.
  • Supermarkets often reduce prices of food products close to the use by date or best before date.
  • Combine shopping with friends – buying in bulk can save money.
  • Plan weekly meals and snacks and only buy food that you need.
  • Don’t go shopping when you are hungry as you will buy food you don’t need, especially unhealthy food.

Finally, what are the most common misconceptions you hear about healthy eating from students?

One of the common things students talk about is leaving cooked rice in the fridge for days even a week before eating. What students don’t know is that cooked rice is one of the major causes of food poisoning. When we cook rice we should only eat it 1-2 days after cooking. The longer it sits in the fridge the more at risk the student is of getting food poisoning.

Secondly, I often hear that cooking takes too long. Students can cook quick easy meals, as we have been doing in the cooking sessions and is illustrated in the cookbook.

If they cook extra, then place one meals worth in the fridge for the next day and the rest in the freezer for later. This way they have healthy ready-to-eat food, which only needs heating when they are busy with assignments and exams. It also ensures they eat healthy foods and they don’t resort to non-healthy food items.

And lastly, that energy drinks provide the energy needed. Energy drinks are usually contain high levels of caffeine, sugar and other stimulants. These only provide a short term energy boost, concentration and alertness.

They are also associated with increased heart rate and blood pressure. Once metabolised the student will become more tired, low in energy, concentration and they don’t usually retain what they just learnt. It is better to have sustained energy from a healthy diet.

To get involved with UC’s cooking classes for students, register with: UC Student Welfare (welfare@canberra.edu.au) or contact the International Student Support Service (internationalcompliance@canberra.edu.au)

Photo by Dan Gold on Unsplash