Right now I’m approaching a point in my semester where I know the stress is coming. The weather is getting nicer, and my friends are making spring break plans– but I can see the on-coming notifications in my Google calendar. Much like my fourth grade wardrobe, it is a wall of purple. This may not mean a lot to those who do not color code their Google calendars identically to mine, but for me it means the onslaught of exam season. Staying healthy and eating nutritious food is very important to me (though I definitely don’t always do it). When I’ve got one or more tests or big assignments coming up, I have less and less time to dedicate to food, but it also becomes more important. For me, eating well brings with it a great sense of control and order in my life, and if I’ve got a lot of studying planned I need as much of both of those as possible. I thought I’d write a little bit about how I go about maintaining a well planned diet on days I’m in the library almost all day long.
finding the time
I think for students, especially during busier times of the year, taking out time to prepare and cook meals can seem to go against your own self interest. Ultimately there’s more time to study if you buy something from the cafeteria/dining hall/cafe/fast food place/etc. However, the time lost to make the food (and the money saved) really is worth it in the long run. When I eat high quality food, I’m more focused and happier which means I can study more efficiently and for longer periods of time when necessary. Obviously if I don’t have time to prepare my food at the time I plan to eat it, it has to be made at some point. I usually like to either square away a little extra time the evening before or wake up earlier the morning of to put some things together. Many people prefer to meal prep at the beginning of the week and refrigerate or freeze their food until they need it, but I have trust issues with anything that’s been in my fridge too long so that option isn’t ideal for me.
When it comes to the main part of a meal, I tend to avoid things best served at a specific temperature or with a potential to sog. Nobody likes cold soup (gazpacho fans this is about you) or a piece of wet bread. This means my food is usually very simple. Go-tos for me include sandwiches, salad, and spring rolls. A lot of people focused on healthy eating tend to shy away from bread, but not this guy. I’m a big fan, so for this reason sandwiches are a real exam week staple for me. Hot tip: if you’re putting any type of spread or condiment on your sandwich, try to put that in between the toppings so it doesn’t make your bread mushy. Salads are a real classic and tend to last well for a few hours in a container. I love them because they’re versatile, high volume, and a good way to make sure everything in your fridge is being put to use. If I have a bell pepper that looks one day away from the end, I’ll throw it on in. Spring rolls do take a little bit more time than the other two, but variety is the spice of life as they say.
This part of the meal is always easiest for me as it invariably consists of as much cut up fruit and vegetables as I can fit in a container. For vegetables I prefer carrots, bell peppers, and cucumbers. Apples, strawberries, and kiwis are the fruits I eat most often, though sometimes I’ll go stupid go crazy and eat a mandarin instead. This takes very little time to prepare and if you’re really in a crunch, you can buy pre-cut fruits and vegetables.
Buying snacks each week is probably my favorite part of grocery shopping. There are always new snacks on my list I’m looking forward to trying. One thing to beware of though is sugar content. I’m a huge proponent of granola and fruit bars, but they often only masquerade as healthy. One trick I’ve been using lately that I heard from Jamie at thestrivetofit, aka my king, is to head to the baby food aisle. This may sound a little weird, and sometimes while eating apple sauce packets with cartoon fruits on them it feels a little weird, too, but the restrictions on food specifically for babies and young children are usually a bit stricter resulting in foods with a lot less preservatives and otherwise unnatural ingredients. I don’t know that I’d go so far as to chow down on a jar of pureed peas and carrots, but for fruit bars and apple sauces it works for me. These of course require no prep time at all and are super convenient to keep in you bag or backpack.
Ultimately I think eating nutritious foods has even greater mental health benefits than physical, and everyone feels a little better when they’re eating a plate of food their mother would approve of. At the end of the day, your world won’t come crashing down if you end up eating vending machine snacks and four cups of coffee. I have those days during exam time more often than I’m probably even aware of. It’s just important to be honest with yourself about your time and priorities. Sometimes there truly are nonstop days when consuming three nutritionist-approved meals just isn’t going to happen. Often though I find myself over exaggerating my schedule as a way to allow myself to make the easier, less healthy decision, even if it’s not what makes me feel better in the long run. Try to be honest and understanding with yourself when it comes to your health. Life is very long, sometimes people eat candy.