The freshman 15 have nothing on teens with these healthy life skills.
You’ve created so many memories around the dining table with your college-bound teen; now that they’re leaving the nest, let’s get them cooking and shopping healthfully for
I learned to cook, both from recipes and from my parents, who have a love of cooking and eating. I’ve had life-threatening food allergies for my entire life and I was a lacto-ovo vegetarian all through college. There was a lot to juggle diet-wise, but I prepared food and cooked for myself through college, with a spirit of creativity and play.
From my experience as an eater and a psychotherapist who specializes in food allergy management, here are four must-have life skills that your college-bound teen will need in their back pocket.
Unlike studying for the SAT, practicing these four skills before heading off on their own will reward them with a lifetime of healthy food choices. The sooner you start working on them together, the better off your loved student will be in the school of life.
Skill 1: Plan a Balanced Meal
Food is how we fuel our bodies so we can work, sleep and play at peak efficiency. A balanced meal will fuel your body to work at its best.
Pick a simple recipe to start learning like a big, juicy salad. A many layered salad can be a great, healthy and filling meal and is infinitely adaptable.
- Determine a few essential ingredient components. For a salad, you could include raw veggies (lettuces, tomatoes, carrots, onions, cabbage, other greens), grains (rice, quinoa, pasta), proteins (meats, deli meats, cheeses, legumes/beans, nuts or seeds), pickled veggies (onions, cucumbers, cabbage), canned veggies and fruits (corn, beans, pineapple, peaches) and condiments
- Write out the staples you can keep in the fridge
- Write out staples you can keep on a shelf
- Write out what ingredients you need to pick up at the store and check what you already have on hand.
Need ideas? Check out our easy Salad and Dressings Recipe Collection!
Skill 2: Shop a Grocery Store Like a Pro
Excellent nutrition starts with smart choices in the grocery store. Cooking up healthy meals is a challenge if you don’t have the right ingredients, so let’s get shopping.
Go to a national chain grocery, one that will be in your teen’s college town, if possible. Your goal is to show them how to shop, make smart choices in any town and any store. Just make sure you don’t shop hungry. If you are like me, you’ll end up with way more in your cart than you need.
- Go over label reading e.g. protein, fat, sugar, sodium content; vegan options and food allergens laws, if applicable see below
- Teach your teen about how to pick out produce: thump those melons, squeeze those lemons, look for bright greens
- Teach your college freshman about coupons and sales
- Explain how to shop the perimeter for fresh produce, meats and dairy and pick only a few items in the center of a store where processed sugar, fats and salts beckon
- Avoid foods with ingredients that you cannot pronounce
- Go over good, safe options that are frozen, canned, shelf stable by national brands that are easy to get anywhere
- Don’t forget your spirit of adventure. Encourage your teen to aim to try a new food every week to add variety to their diet
Skill 3: Cook and Assemble The Goodies to Taste Great
Create a meal your teen will be excited about, one that’s colorful, flavorful and filling.
Remember to keep it simple, especially as freshman usually only have access to a mini fridge and a microwave.
- Talk through what a balanced meal looks like – protein, carbs, fiber, fats and go over portion sizes
- Talk through snacking options for class and on the go. Fruit, yogurt, nuts and seeds often found in the vending machine provide a quick, healthy energy boost as opposed to some easy Fritos
- Talk through how to put together a balanced meal from shelf staples. Come up with some advance recipes, like making microwave mac and cheese and stirring in steamed greens
- Talk about food safety, like how long can cooked food be kept out (not long), or in the fridge (not forever) and how to handle raw meats (wash your hands, a lot!)
- If there’s a service that delivers like Amazon, Google, FreshDirect, set up an account for deliveries to the dorm, making it easy to make smart food choices
Skill 4: Keep All Your Favorite Recipes in One Place
Create a personalized cookbook with easy, family favorites. Everyone loves a taste from home and with a personalized cookbook, you can send them love, every meal.
- Create a personalized book for easy reference with simple recipe ideas
- Write out sample meal plans to keep your teen fueled through the day
- List favorite shelf-stable brands that are inexpensive, pack a nutritional punch and are available nationally
- Personalize your cookbook with versions of family favorites along with stories of loved ones
- Include encouraging, loving notes alongside a recipe. They go a long way to help your teen stay mentally focused and nutritionally fulfilled
- Show your teen how to create write and save their own recipes so that they can easily track their own favorites and make their own creative adaptations in the future!
Support your favorite freshman with life skills and recipes that can sustain them for their first time away from home.
Sloane Miller, MFA, MSW, LMSW, is a New York City based Psychotherapist and Specialist in Food Allergy Management. She encourages her clients to live well with food allergies, including creating delicious, safe-for-you meals. You can see what Sloane’s cooking right now on her Blog, Instagram and you can find her at Allergic Girl.com.