Diabetes at College Advice Series: Eating Healthy at School

Posted by shannon on Fri, 04/18/2014 - 11:50 in

What I (and my parents!) wish I was told before going to college: general advice about the college transition with diabetes.
As we all know, eating healthy with diabetes is very important. College food makes it particularly challenging when trying to have a healthy lifestyle and knowing how many carbohydrates you’re consuming! Freshman year you’re pretty much stuck with one option for living arrangements: a dorm room. Usually you’re allowed to have a microwave and a mini fridge in your room, but that means you’re still probably going to be eating most of your meals at a campus dining hall.

Food Oeating-healty-at-college-with-diabetes-400x300ptions on Campus

Most schools have an on-campus dining hall office and you can head there to check the estimated nutritional facts for meals that day. But don’t be surprised if you head up to the dining hall and it’s something completely different on the menus. And also beware of the “all you can eat” dining hall options. At my university we have an all you can eat dining hall and scattered across campus we have other meal options too that act like fast food chains. There are salad, Mexican, sandwich and soup, hamburger and deli places where we can use our meal plans. Sometimes what’s great about those options is that most are a “build your own” style and I can determine what goes into my sub or salad.

Becoming Comfortable with Carb Counting for New Meals

Getting the hang of how campus food will react in your body is different for everyone and the first two weeks you should be patient. It can definitely be challenging playing the “guessing game” with carbohydrates, but don’t become discouraged. The trial and error should only last a week or so. What really helped me my freshman year was testing my glucose levels more often until I knew if I was guessing the carbohydrates correctly. I’d make sure I amped up the amount of testing my blood sugar until I became more confident with myself regarding the on campus food.

Luckily my sophomore year I was able to move into an on campus apartment. This meant I had a full kitchen where I could cook my own meals. My parents were super excited for me because this meant that I knew exactly what I was cooking and how many carbohydrates there were. Unfortunately just because you have your own kitchen doesn’t always necessarily mean that you are eating healthier. As most parents know, eating healthy is expensive. I hadn’t realized just how much more expensive until I went to the grocery store on my own to buy food for my apartment. I knew that fruits and vegetables were obviously more expensive than potato chips or microwavable meals, but I didn’t realize by how much until I started calculating my shopping cart!

Tricks for Eating Healthy at College with Diabetes

Luckily there are some really great tricks to eating healthy and managing your diabetes at school while being on a college budget. My first suggestion is to still look at an on campus meal plan.  Sometimes colleges will offer “block” meal plans. What happens here is you purchase a set number of meal plans.  Personally I have a 50 block meal plan even though I live in an on campus apartment.  This allows me to eat on campus about four times a week. Since my freshman year I’ve learned which dining halls and what foods are healthier to eat on campus. The rest of my meals I’ll cook in my apartment.

Another way to eat healthy is to cook with friends or roommates. My roommates and I usually cook together two times a week. We switch off who makes the main meal and who cooks the sides.  Sometimes we’ll do this together. It’s actually a great bonding experience and you don’t feel like you’re wasting food. It’s nice cooking together because with my diabetes I can see what is going into my meals and I’ll know the exact amount of carbohydrates I’ll be eating.

Eating healthy is so important, especially for us with diabetes! Having as many options as possible, being patient and prepared helps create a healthy environment and healthy alternatives while living at college.