In the midst of turning in assignments, studying and socializing, it can be easy for students to forget that they need to fuel their bodies. Fortunately, eating healthy does not have to be difficult.

Make sure your meals are balanced and include a source of carbohydrates (brown rice, whole wheat bread or oatmeal), lean protein, heart-healthy fats and fruits and vegetables.

1. Eat More Fruits and Vegetables

College can be a stressful time for students. They are juggling school and work responsibilities, possibly a family or other obligations. They are also under a great deal of mental stress and need to fuel their bodies and brains properly.

It is essential that they get enough fruits and vegetables, whole grains, protein and healthy fats in their diet. This will ensure they have the nutrients they need to stay healthy and perform at their best in class and on the sports field.

A good starting point is to add a fruit or veggie at every meal, if possible. This could be as simple as adding a banana to oatmeal for breakfast or an orange with your sandwich at lunch. It is also a good idea to keep a supply of healthy snacks on hand. This way when hunger strikes, they will have something other than the usual junk food such as chips or candy.

2. Eat Smaller Meals

Students spend much of their time studying, which can interfere with the timing and frequency of meals. Skipping meals can be detrimental to a student’s academic performance and can lead to binge eating. Students often reach for caffeinated beverages like soda and coffee to stay awake, but these drinks can cause energy crashes that result in poor exam performance and disrupt sleep patterns for days at a time.

When students do eat, they need to make the most of each meal. Eating smaller portions can help reduce food waste and save money. Students should also try new foods. Many dining halls have numerous dishes and salad toppings that students have never tried before, and they might be surprised at how much they enjoy them.

For example, instead of reaching for fried chicken and fries from the cafeteria, students could opt for grilled options or load their plate with different colors of veggies. They can also choose whole grains over refined pasta and rice, and try a side dish such as sweet potatoes, which have a lower glycemic index than white potatoes and are rich in potassium and vitamins A, B6 and C.

3. Eat More Protein

As the number of calories students eat varies based on their gender, age and level of activity, it’s important to include lean protein at every meal. In addition, it’s important to eat healthy fats that are good for the brain and heart.

Most college campuses take nutrition seriously and have many options for healthy grab-and-go foods. Students on meal plans can choose from smoothie bars, slam bowls, fresh vegetables, whole grains and plant-based proteins.

Eating regularly, especially breakfast, can help students feel more energetic and perform better in classes requiring memorization and critical thinking. Skipping meals, eating nutrient-poor snacks and high-fat foods can contribute to weight gain, poor memory and difficulty sleeping. To help support a healthy diet for your students, consider serving fish dishes that vary from the typical cafeteria cod and tuna and adding a variety of grilled vegetables to your salad bar.

4. Eat More Whole Grains

As a college student, it can be hard to fit healthy eating into your daily routine. Juggling classes, studying and other responsibilities can leave little time for anything else. However, a nutritious diet is essential for both mental and physical health.

Students have higher energy needs than the general population and need to be sure they are consuming adequate protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. Eating a variety of foods can help meet these needs, while also satisfying the taste buds.

When shopping at the college dining hall, opt for grilled items over fried and choose brown rice, quinoa or whole grain pasta over white. When choosing sides, go for veggies like roasted sweet potatoes instead of fries (sweet potatoes have a lower glycemic index), and add in fiber-rich foods like berries and whole grains. In addition, include nutrient-dense proteins like lean meats, yoghurt or non-dairy yoghurt alternatives and a selection of nuts and seeds.

5. Drink More Water

College is an exciting time in life, full of new opportunities and freedoms. But it can also be a stressful one, with students struggling to balance studies and social activities with a hectic schedule and tight budget. It’s important that students make healthy choices in order to thrive during this critical time in their lives.

The first and most important step is to drink more water. The average student should be drinking a gallon of water per day. Roughly 20% of water intake should come from food, and the other 80% should be from beverages.

A reusable water bottle is a great investment for the college student! Be sure to bring it with you everywhere, and refill it as needed. Many times when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty. So instead of reaching for an unhealthy snack, have a glass of water.

6. Eat More Healthy Fats

Getting in the habit of eating regularly can help students stay focused and avoid skipping meals. This can detract from academic success, so it’s important to set aside time to eat each day and choose healthy foods.

College is the first time many adults will be on their own and responsible for meal planning, grocery shopping and cooking. This can be intimidating, especially for new freshmen who may not have the food skills or nutrition knowledge to start.

Students should aim to eat a variety of foods from each food group to get enough energy and nutrients for their busy schedules. It is also important to try to limit unhealthy fats such as lard, butter, ghee and suet, and replace them with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Examples of these healthy fats include avocado, olive oil, rapeseed oil and nuts. These fats supply the essential omega-3 and omega-6 fats that your body can’t make.