How to Help Kids Eat Healthy in College

help kids avoid the freshman 15We've all heard of the dreaded "Freshman 15"—those extra pounds many teens gain immediately after heading off to college. It's no wonder this happens: When you're living away from home for the first time, it's tough not to give in to temptations of pizza, beer, fast food, and extra trips to the dining hall at all hours of the day. Is there anything we can do as parents to help our kids eat healthy when they're away from home? Here are some tips to help your kids avoid the Freshman 15 in their first year of college...

  • Teach kids to cook. This is something you can do early on while your kid is still living at home. The temptation for kids who don't know how to cook is that quick, easy food exists in the form of McDonald's or other fast food spots—but unfortunately these aren't the healthiest of choices. Knowing how to cook can at least provide an alternative to fast food every once in a while. There are actually student cookbooks available including The Student Cookbook: 200 Cheap and Easy Recipes for Food, Drinks and Snacks.
  • Stock their dorm room with healthy snacks. Pretzels, popcorn, crackers, unsweetened cereal, low-fat yogurt, fruit, and ready-to-eat veggies are good, low-calorie snacks. Your kids can reach for these when they are hungry instead of ordering pizza.
  • Practice portion control at home. Be sure your kids understand appropriate portion sizes and balanced eating (fruits, veggies, protein, etc.). This knowledge is essential at the dining hall where kids are faced with no supervision and unlimited food choices.
  • Have "the talk." Let's be honest: For some kids and in some situations, the Freshman 15 isn't about what they eat as much as it is about how much they drink. Not only is alcohol loaded with calories, but late-night drinking often engenders late-night eating. Most parents will talk to their kids about responsible drinking from a safety perspective, but be sure the health consequences are also part of this conversation if you think it will be an issue with your child.
  • Encourage an active lifestyle. Colleges have plenty of opportunities to be active—including intramural sports teams, athletic-related clubs, and even walking to class. Some college even offer free gym membership as part of tuition. Encouraging your kids to take advantage of these resources not only will keep them healthy, it will also help them to make new friends.

Do you have any tips for preparing your kids to eat healthy in college or when they're away from home?

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