Whether you have a meal plan at college or you make your own food in your apartment, sometimes you just crave a home-cooked meal every once in a while. If you’re headed home for spring break, you may finally get to have those favorite meals again for a week. No more dining-hall mystery meat or finding the time in your busy schedule to cook your own meals!
Since a break from campus life means a change in routine, it’s important to make sure you don’t drop your healthy eating habits while in the comfort of your own home. Sometimes your favorite home-cooked meals aren’t as healthy as you think they are, which can lead to overeating and the weight gain that comes with it. Also, the lack of routine in your schedule can lead you to snack more during the day. For healthy-eating tips, we turned to registered dietitians Katie Ferraro and Nancy Clark. By following these tips, you’ll ensure that your spring break fun doesn’t lead to excess weight gain!
Help your parents cook dinner
Nothing beats having some family bonding time while also being in control of your own meals! Your parents have missed having you around the house, so make sure that you spend some time with them while you’re home in between your time with friends. A great activity to do together is cooking a family dinner.
When you make your own meals, you’re in complete control over what goes into your food. Going out to eat means that you don’t know exactly how your meal has been prepared, and the same is true for your trips to the dining hall.
“You are never going to put as much butter, salt and added sugar in your meals as you get at the typical restaurant,” Ferraro says. “Cooking at home helps you retain control over the foods that go in your body. Don't give up that control to someone behind a counter or a kitchen at a restaurant. They certainly do not have your best interest in mind!”
Assisting in the kitchen also means that you can make suggestions for what should be made for dinner that evening. This gives you the power to choose a delicious and nutritious meal to help you to stay on track. You can try baked or grilled chicken or fish, a side of vegetables and a sweet potato for a nutritious and satisfying meal.
Go grocery shopping with your parents
Along the same lines of cooking meals with your parents, you can also go grocery shopping with them. This helps to put you in control of your eating even before you start cooking. Make sure you only shop for healthy foods that you really need instead of unnecessary snacks.
“I tend to eat healthier when I am at home,” says Rachel Sutton, a sophomore at Messiah College. “When you’re on campus, you get more stressed because of your schoolwork, so then you go to the dining hall and eat an unlimited amount of food, which can get you off track. At home, we have less food options on campus, so it helps me to stay focused.”
When you head to your nearest grocery store with your folks, make sure you load up your cart with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lean protein.
Don’t drink your calories
Did you know that a Grande Strawberry Frappuccino at Starbucks has a whopping 360 calories? Indulging in a yummy frozen beverage every once in a while is fine, but if you enjoy one regularly, or even several a day, you might be consuming a lot more calories than you intended.
Since you’re more likely to go out with your friends and family during your breaks, you might be more susceptible to drinking your calories. In the end, it’s smarter to eat your calories instead.
“You’re better off eating your calories than drinking them in order to feel more satisfied,” Clark says. “Remember, calories count!”
Clark suggests going to the website of the coffee shop you’ll be visiting to see how many calories are in the drink you want so you know exactly what you’re drinking.
Avoiding drinking your calories also helps you to get the best possible nutrition for your calories consumed.
“Not all calories are created equal, and beverages with calories often contain added sugars that provide no other nutrition,” Ferraro says. “Solid foods take longer to digest than do liquids, so they have the potential to keep you fuller for longer than do drinks.”
Be mindful of portion sizes
Moderation is one of the keys to healthy eating. Of course you’ll want to eat some of your mother’s homemade green bean casserole or another favorite comfort food once you get home, but that doesn’t mean you have to have three helpings of it to enjoy it. You might be tempted to overeat in excitement because you’ll be enjoying food that you haven’t had in a while, but don’t forget that you can always save portions of your favorite meals for later.
It’s a good idea to get familiar with proper serving sizes so you eat only what your body really needs. For example, a portion of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, and a serving of fruit is about the size of a baseball.
It also helps to start off with a small portion to begin with, since you can always go back for more if you find that you’re still hungry. Take the time to savor your food to the fullest, and have a nice conversation at the dinner table with your family to keep you distracted.
Avoid eating late at night
You might be used to late-night pizza deliveries or midnight diner runs when you’re on campus, but once you go home, your newest weaknesses are easily accessible desserts and a well-stocked pantry and fridge. These temptations make it difficult to stay on track when you’re at home.
According to Ferraro, the urge to snack late at night isn’t that uncommon, and it can actually be done healthily.
“Depending upon what you ate during the day, wanting to eat late at night isn't necessarily all that bad. You do not digest food at a different rate depending upon whether it's early or late in the day,” Ferraro says. “If you did, however, overeat all day, then adding additional unnecessary calories later at night is not wise.”
Ferraro says that if you feel hungry late at night, you should ask yourself: “Am I really hungry?” If you are really hungry, ask yourself: “Why am I really hungry?”
“Perhaps you didn't eat a large enough dinner, or perhaps your meals are low in fiber, protein and fat,” Ferraro says. “Those three nutrients help to promote satiety—the feeling of fullness.”
So before digging into a midnight treat, take some time to evaluate your hunger. Then try to make healthy adjustments to your diet the next day, such as consuming meals with more fiber and protein, to better moderate your hunger levels.
If you do find that you need something to tide you over until morning, opt for something light, like fruit or veggies. If you’re not actually hungry but are looking for a little something to sip on before bed, try some unsweetened, hot tea or a glass of unsweetened almond milk, which will cost you only 30 calories per cup.
Eat a healthy breakfast
The busy semester might not leave you with much time to enjoy a healthy breakfast, but during your spring break you’ll have more time to eat the most important meal of the day before getting ready for your fun-filled adventures.
A protein-packed, yummy breakfast can keep you full and focused for the day ahead. Skipping breakfast also might cause you to overeat at lunchtime, so avoid all of those extra calories by fitting in a healthy, non-donut breakfast into your schedule. Some great ideas for a healthy breakfast include a veggie omelet, some oatmeal with your favorite nut butter or fruit and yogurt.
Understand your hunger level
If you’re having a slow, uneventful day during your break, your boredom may tempt you to eat when you’re not hungry. You might even be watching TV with your siblings when you see a commercial for a yummy new snack or meal that could lead you to think you’re hungry. Instead, analyze your hunger level and decide what your next steps should be. Maybe you’re thirsty, so drink a glass of water to ward off cravings. Your body might not need the food that your mind wants, so think before acting on your thoughts.
“The part of your brain called the hypothalamus controls your hunger as well as your thirst. For some people, when they think they are hungry, they might actually just be thirsty,” Ferraro says. “Try quenching that feeling with a large glass of water, wait 10 minutes, and then revisit. … Drinking fluids also works to somewhat distend your stomach as the fluid enters. That distention sends messages to your brain that starts to initiate the feeling of fullness. So a large glass of water may help to curb your hunger.”
Just like you were able to stay healthy and in control over winter break, you can do the same during any break when you’ll be spending time away from campus. Make sure that you keep your fitness and nutrition goals in mind as you prepare for your well-deserved time of fun and relaxation!