I’m a very strong believer in mental preparation.
I like to have time to come to peace with my soon-to-be surroundings and acclimate before plunging in. I need time to hold my own hand (I know, I know, I’m such a romantic 😛 ) and reassure myself that everything will be okay. I know it always is, but having time to formulate a plan of action, whether on paper or in-mind, is so important. I value my processing time. Probably too dearly.
Which is why I’m encouraging you to think about how you’re going to approach meal planning now, before the semester begins and things get crazy.
As I learned in psychology class (guess summer classes were good for something! 😉 ), stress is determined by perception, not events. Two people can experience the same situation with one being calm and collected throughout, and the other being a nervous wreck (not-so-secret confession: usually the latter is me). What explains these differences? Nothing more than varying viewpoints. Seeing the stressor as a challenge rather than an obstacle. As something to tackle before it tackles you. Kind of like a game – beat your stresses and win at life (well, most of the time, at least 🙂 ).
And that is exactly how you should see meal prepping: as a challenge, not an obstacle. It’s an exciting activity that, though takes time, forces you to channel your creativity and inner health-consciousness (we both know that deep down, you really want to be eating healthfully if you aren’t already). Meal prepping is a mission that will have ups and downs, but ultimately, when handled properly, will land you where you want to be: in good physical health. It may be a bumpy journey, but the destination will be rewarding. It’s kind of like biking to the beach against the windchill (if you haven’t experienced that, just try me that it’s difficult – especially when you’re trying to keep up with your dad… just saying). It’s also like running. The whole process of running can be rough (at least for me), but once you stop, you feel accomplished and satisfied. Meal prepping is comparable to any metaphor that implies hard work and yields well-worth-it results.
If you see meal prepping as a Sunday chore that you need to get over with before moving on to the wonderful world of other important and exciting stuff people in college have to do, then that’s exactly what it will be: burdensome and annoying. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Meal prepping will be what you make of it.
This semester, I’m going to be moving to an apartment, which also means I’ll have the added responsibility of cooking for myself (yay!). Given that information, I’ve been asking myself many questions as of late:
How much time will I have this semester to devote to the cooking process?
How many hours will I be able to spend at the grocery store weekly?
How much mental and physical energy will I realistically have before mealtimes to actually make my plan to eat healthfully happen? (Trying real hard to be honest with myself on this one). Will advanced preparation be necessary? (hint: very much yes).
What will I do on those days where lunch has to be taken to-go?
I’m beyond excited for the opportunity to have full control over the foods I chose to fuel my body with, yet I know that working with my answers to these questions won’t always be easy. For my freshman year, I lived in on-campus housing and had three meals provided to me daily. Mind you, my super-picky-eater-vegetarian-self didn’t eat many of those meals (I’d like to take this opportunity to publicly thank the Chobani and KIND bar companies for keeping me alive), but nonetheless as much as I would have preferred my mom’s roasted cauliflower to the roast beef at Hillel, cooking wasn’t even something I could consider, as I didn’t have a kitchen to use consistently.
The whole cooking-for-yourself thing can be pretty scary. The fact that summer is ending soon is probably even scarier. Which is why mental preparation (and at least starting to ask yourself some of the above questions) is even more necessary. It’s important to accept that, in just a few days, you’ll have to think about this meal prep stuff. Meal prepping can be a daunting task. With schoolwork, extracurricular activities and on-campus events, how can any college student easily find time to cook anything, let alone prepare healthy meals? Isn’t it just easier to grab something quick, shove it in a microwave, and eat it on the way to class or during a library study session?
But, of course, I’m here to tell you not to do that (surprise! Jk, you totally saw that coming). You should care about eating healthy meals because:
1) Balanced meals –> Balanced mood –> Balanced life
Need I say any more? Eating healthy, balanced meals will fuel you with the energy you need to get through the day (which is a lot for us college students, as all of you know) and keep up your mood! If you skip meals or eat snacks in place of meals (ps – bars count as snacks. pps – yes, I am guilty of all of the above), you will feel tired, hungry and cranky (#hangry), as your blood sugar will drop. Also, eating unbalanced meals can, overtime, lead to deficiencies in certain nutrients, such as iron, just to name one that’s especially common in college-aged girls. An iron deficiency can leave you feeling irritable, lightheaded, dizzy, and struggling to focus, among other inconveniences, so it’s very important to plan your meals accordingly, in a way that hits all the food groups.
Be nice to yourself (and your friends, if we’re speaking in terms of mood) and nourish your body in the best way possible. Make sure your meals have ample portions of protein, carbohydrates and veggies. To do this successfully, it is essential that you plan what you’re going to eat or prepare your meals in advance if you run on a tight schedule. “Save” healthy recipes you come across on Facebook and keep a running list of ingredients to buy the next time you go grocery shopping. On Sundays, or another day of the week when you have some spare time, plan what you’re going to eat during the week. I recently purchased a notepad that lists the days of the week with space under each day that will allow me to pencil in my meal plans (Dw, I’m aware that my nutrition nerd is showing). If you don’t feel like spending extra money on a notepad (or are just feeling lazy, which is valid too!), there are free printable versions similar to what I bought, which are great organization tools.
2) Eating Healthfully Can Lead You to Do Better In School
It’s true. A scientific link has been found between eating nutritious meals and doing well in school in a study done with over 5,000 children in 2009. So this is old news. We already know that eating healthfully is important, for a myriad of reasons (you don’t need me to tell you that), so it’s time to actually execute that plan. If a dissonance exists in your mind between what you know is best for your body and how you’re actually eating, now is a great time to change your habits (start of semester resolutions?). No later time will be better than right now.
Disclaimer: Do not take this study to imply that an apple a day will land you an A in Organic Chemistry (sadly, that requires much more than healthy eating alone), but as touched upon above, by eating healthful, balanced meals you will be fueling your brain in the best way you can, which will help keep you focused. Did you know that, on average, your brain burns around 300 calories per day just thinking about complexities? Likely, the number is higher for a college student, as a decent portion of the day is (hopefully) spent studying. This article is super chill about that little fact, since it’s considering the situation from a weight-loss perspective, and thinking hard isn’t exactly going to make the scale drop dramatically, but really, from a nutrition perspective, this is huge. It’s important to consider that the calories we eat fuel our brains too, not only our bodies, and most people are not aware of that. When we engage in activity that requires prolonged thought, the brain uses more glucose, so it’s important for there to be balanced levels of glucose in the bloodstream to begin with, which you can accomplish by eating balanced meals.
So don’t feel guilty for procrastinating schoolwork when cooking yourself a decent lunch. Instead, view it as a critical step in the studying process. A balanced meal will yield a focused mind, which in turn will yield better studying. Who knew “procrastination” could be so productive?
On a final note, know that nothing worth having comes easy. Perhaps it’s challenge itself that makes hard-to-reach goals desirable. Through planning and preparation, though, you will surely succeed in whatever you put your mind to – regarding eating healthfully in college or otherwise – so set your standards high! Know that healthy eating should be as much a priority to you as schoolwork (hopefully) is, and do what you know you need to do to succeed. Don’t fail to plan – according to many pins on Pinterest, that’s planning to fail, and that would be counterproductive. So start thinking about your agenda regarding meal prep now if you want it to be a successful one!
I hope to write another post regarding specific meal prep strategies after I get settled in my apartment and figure out the tips and tricks that work for me, a constantly rushing vegetarian student cooking for herself in college.
In the meantime, though, I’ll see you in the container aisle 😉