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Ask the experts: Healthy hostelling

HFG nutritionist Claire Turnbull has tips for tertiary students looking to practise healthy eating habits.

Q: For the past few years, I have read Healthy Food Guide and enjoyed eating healthily and having a healthy lifestyle overall: my mum would always cook recipes from your magazine.

As I’ve moved into a hostel for university, I’ve been finding it extremely hard to be healthy. With limited choice for lunch and dinner at the hostel, it’s also hard to choose which meal option is healthier as I don’t know exactly how (or with what) it’s been prepared. Do you have any advice as to what people should do in a situation like this?


A: Jessica, I totally understand how tricky it can be to eat well when so much of your food is prepared by others. I was in this situation myself at university.

If you have a group of friends who are keen to make sure there are always healthy options on the menu, it is worth contacting the university to see how they organise the catering, whether there is any nutritional information available, or if they’re open to adapting the menu slightly to ensure meals are prepared in a healthy way. There is no harm being proactive and asking. I did and it worked!

Other than that, if you are not in a position to cook your own meals, eat as well as you possibly can at breakfast and when you snack. The options at the food hall are likely to have more fat, salt and less vegetables than you will have been used to at home when your mum was making Healthy Food Guide recipes. Here are some ideas to help re-tip the balance:

  • Aim to have a nutrition-packed breakfast. For example, wholegrain cereal with trim milk and fruit, porridge or wholegrain toast with no-added-salt-or-sugar peanut butter and a low-fat yoghurt or an egg on wholegrain toast.
  • Add vegetables to your breakfast. Yes, you heard me right! You can add spinach to smoothies (try Claire’s berry smoothie with greens) or have an omelette with veges added.
  • Make sure you are having veges as snacks. Raw carrots are cheap and tasty, you can also snack on tomatoes, celery, cucumber, snow peas or blanched broccoli and cauliflower. You can make a batch of vegetable soup to have for a snack when you are in your hostel if you have the facilities to make that.
  • Make the healthiest choice you can from what is on offer at the hostel. Look for options with lots of vegetables or salads and limit deep-fried options and things with creamy/cheesy sauces.