University of Florida | GatorWell Health Promotion Services - Health Topic

Healthy Eating and Active Living

In order to perform at our best academically or otherwise, we must be well nourished and physically active. Explore below to learn the basics of healthy eating and active living, as well as strategies for negotiating these areas of health with a busy college student schedule!

Healthy Eating in College

College life can present unique challenges when it comes to eating well and ensuring your diet contains the wide variety of vitamins and minerals it depends on to perform at its best. While juggling a packed schedule, it may seem like skipping a meal will free up some much needed time. Eating on the run can make choosing balanced meals and nutrient-rich foods more difficult.  And, social events often involve food - particularly higher calorie snacks and sweets. But here's the reality:

  • Regular healthy meals keeps your energy up.
  • Skipping meals reduces concentration and increases fatigue.
  • Fatigue can also be an early sign of dehydration.

Here are a few of the top tips for staying fueled and focused...

  • Don't skip meals
  • Eat mindfully 
  • Stay hydrated

What is Healthy Eating?

The graph below, from the Dietary Guidelines of Americans 2010, demonstrates how they typical American diet compares to the recommended intake of various healthy and unhealthy food options: 


  • Eat more of these foods: fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish and seafood, vegetable oils, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Eat less of these foods: whole milk and other full-fat dairy foods, red meat, processed meats, highly refined and processed grains and sugars, and sugary drinks.

****We recommend eating MORE healthy foods and LESS not so healthy foods.  Unless you are medically advised otherwise, there is no reason to completely restrict foods from your diet (everything in moderation). However, as you can see from the graph above, Americans are eating far too much of the things we should be eating less of and far too little of the foods we should be eating more of. Food for thought!**** 

Healthy Snacking

Smart Snacking:  Make the Healthy Choice, the Easy Choice!

Snacks are necessary for combating hunger between meals. Eating a small and balanced snack when you’re feeling hungry will ensure you fueled for your day and keep you from overeating at your next meal.

Did you know?

  • Adding a snack between meals is a good way to add fruits and veggies to your daily intake.
  • Only 4% of UF students report eating the daily recommended servings of fruits and veggies.

Smart Snacking Rules to Follow:

  • Balance Carbohydrates, Proteins, and Fats
  • Carbohydrates provide a quick spike in blood sugar to  get you going
  • Complex carbohydrates may help you avoid a subsequent sugar “crash” often experienced after consumption of refined sugars, such as white breads or sweets
  • Protein and fats help sustain blood sugar levels to ward off hunger for a longer period of time.
  • Mind Your Portions 

Keeping snack portions small will satisfy your hunger without spoiling your appetite for the next meal.

 Here are some snack options: 

  • Whole Wheat Crackers + Sliced Cheese = Enjoy cheese with crackers. Add veggies, like a spinach leaf or sliced avocado for an extra treat.
  • Veggie Sticks + Hummus Dip = Dip veggie sticks in hummus dip and enjoy (Try making your own hummus at home, and add veggies like roasted red pepper.)
  • Fresh Fruit + Cottage Cheese = Combine cottage cheese and fresh fruit in a bowl.
  • Whole Wheat Bread + Canned Tuna + Season canned tuna with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard, or whatever seasonings you like. = Enjoy on bread as a sandwich or open-faced on toast.
  • Whole Grain Cereal or Granola + Low Fat Milk or Yogurt = Combine and eat! Top with nuts, flax seeds, honey, or toasted coconut.
  • Dried Fruit + Nuts = Make your own trail mix! Keep a bag in your backpack to snack on between classes.

Local and Sustainable Foods

According to Sustainable Table, "In simplest terms, sustainable agriculture is the production of food, fiber, or other plant or animal products using farming techniques that protect the environment, public health, human communities, and animal welfare." GatorWell supports sustainable food practices and food justice as a mechanism to improve individual health, as well as the health of the local community and ultimately the world. Food justice starts with you! Below are some tips for supporting sustainable food practices, food justice and your health!

Active Living

College life can present unique challenges when it comes to staying active. While juggling a packed schedule, it may seem like cutting out exercise will free up some much needed time. However, research shows that including exercise in your daily and/or weekly routine, can improve your intellectual prowess and reduce stress, in addition to being good for your physical health. Even if you only move for a short period of time, you will feel more energized and ready to take on the next study session! Get up and move to feel better about your health!

How much physical activity do adults need? 

Stay active by making it easy and fun-enlist your friends to join in the fun!

Healthy Eating Strategies

Thankfully, there are several strategies for having regular healthy eating habits-even while in college.

Strategies for Meal Planning

1. The Plate Method: Build Yourself a Balanced Plate! 

  • ½ of your plate is vegetables and fruits,
  • ¼ is grains and starches, and
  • ¼ is lean protein sources, such as meats or beans.

The amount of food you need depends on your weight, height, sex and level of physical activity. Check out this cool tool to get your very own daily food plan and tips for integrating the recommendations.

2. Eat breakfast...whenever that may be!

Eating breakfast when you wake up will help you stay alert in class. Skipping breakfast or other meals can also undermine efforts to maintain a healthy weight by reducing metabolism and leading to over-eating later in the day. When it comes to breakfast, eating anything is better than eating nothing. For more sustained energy, aim for foods with some protein, fat, and fiber. If you are running out the door - try quick and portable options like a granola bar and yogurt, fruit and string cheese, crackers and peanut butter, or a smoothie. Vegetables and fruits are a natural source of energy-work those into meals and snacks as often as possible.

3. Eat more VEGGIES and FRUITS

  • Have at least one vegetable with each meal.
  • Grab a piece of fruit as a quick snack between classes.
  • Stack veggies on sandwiches or burritos.
  • Make a smoothie.
  • Pick recipes that have multiple veggies or add veggies to your favorite recipe

4. Have it your making your own meals

When you prepare your own meals, you can choose what goes in - some healthy oils, a bit more spice, some extra veggies and the portion that is right for you. Cooking does not have to be hard or expensive to produce some very tasty results. New to cooking? Stop by GatorWell to get a free copy of "The Hungry Gator Cookbook" for quick and easy meal ideas with the college student in mind. Click the image below to access the digital Hungry Gator Cookbook


Here are some video tutorials to learn how to:

5. Instead of reaching for that soda…reach for some water.

There is no lack of sugar sweetened beverages on the market. Unfortunately, many people do not realize how calorie rich those beverages are. Additionally, because dehydration is linked to fatigue and fatigue is linked to diminished academic performance, the more water you drink the better you will perform academically. Here are some strategies the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for increasing water intake:

  • Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages. Serve water with meals.
  • For a quick, easy, and inexpensive thirst-quencher, carry a water bottle and refill it throughout the day.
  • Don't "stock the fridge" with sugar-sweetened beverages. Instead, keep a jug or bottles of cold water in the fridge.
  • Make water more exciting by adding slices of lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon, or drink sparkling water. Add a splash of 100% juice to plain sparkling water for a refreshing, low-calorie drink.
  • Be a role model for your friends and family by choosing healthy, low-calorie beverages.
  • When you do opt for a sugar-sweetened beverage, go for the small size. Some companies are now selling 8-oz. cans and bottles of soda, which contain about 100 calories.

6. Eat when you are hungry. Stop when you are satisfied.

Follow the intuitive eating philosophy: eat when you’re hungry and stop when you are full. When choosing to eat, think about why you want to eat.  Are you really hungry?  Or, are you bored, stressed, or trying to procrastinate. If you are really hungry, think about what will be most satisfying when choosing foods.  If you think you may be eating for reasons other than hunger, think about other activities that would help like calling a friend or taking a walk. Here are 10 Principles of intuitive eating

  • Respect Your Body
  • Honor Your Health
  • Honor Your Hunger 
  • Respect Your Fullness
  • Reject the Diet Mentality 
  • Make Peace with Food
  • Challenge the Food Police
  • Discover the Satisfaction Factor
  • Honor Your Feelings Without Using Food
  • Exercise--Feel the Difference

Be a Conscious Consumer!

Buy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables on a Budget AND Support local/sustainable agriculture:

Looking to stay on track with your budget and have sustainable food? There are several options for you to choose from the in UF and Gainesville community. 

  • Community Supported Agriculture (CSA): CSA is a program in which consumers become members of local farms by paying a given amount of money at the beginning of the season. In return, members are delivered a variety of fruits and vegetables once a week for the duration of the growing season.
  • Campus Gardens: members of the UF Agronomy and Soils Club manage the Student Agricultural Gardens on Museum Road. They are available to provide information to new gardeners. There are plots available for rent on a yearly basis. The UF Organic Garden also provides a great place for UF students and employees to grow their own organic vegetables and flowers.
  • U-Pick Farms: In and around Alachua County, there are several area "u-pick" farms that offer a variety of affordable fruits and vegetables. They are a lot of fun to visit and a great way to spend an afternoon. One popular fruit in the area is blueberries, which are packed full of healthy antioxidants, are easy to grow organically and are easy to freeze to add into a smoothie, pancakes, or cereal! 
  • Area Farmer's Markets: farmer's markets sometimes offer fresh fruits and vegetables for a more affordable price than you will find at the grocery store. Alachua County currently offers Farmers Market's five days a week


Get Motivated and Active at UF!

Incorporating physical activity into your day can be a healthy habit that benefits every aspect of your life including stress and anxiety, mood, energy, weight management, and sleep.  With the vibrant and motivated UF campus as your foundation, build convenient opportunities for activity into your day by:

Other Tips:

  • Gradually build new activities or longer time spent exercising into your routine. 
  • Feel proud of your accomplishments and celebrate your successes!  Use an app to keep track.
  • Keep at it! Try new things until you find an activity that is both challenging and fun.  The more you incorporate physical activity into your daily routine, the more you will start to feel the benefits of it.
  • Get a friend, set up a couple times you’re available during the week, and get moving! 

***Safety note: when exercising after dark, always do so with a friend and a flashing light (pick one up for free at GatorWell)***

10 Tips Educational Series: 

Campus Resources:

General Nutrition

Mindful or Intuitive Eating

Body Image & Eating Disorders

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Cooking Tutorial: Spicy Black Bean Burger

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