The warm weather is fading into Fall, which means that school is back in session and those perfect lazy summer days are being replaced with all the busy excitement that comes with a new school year. But with a new school year also usually comes with it many late night study sessions, long sports practices, and lots of take out.
One of the most common complaints that I hear as a Registered Dietitan from college students is that it is so hard to eat well during the busy college school year. If there is one thing every college student knows, it’s that life is busy. Between classes, sports, and other social events, sometimes (a lot of the time) meals have to be eaten on-the-go, or in between study breaks.
Mom isn’t around to make sure you are having a balanced dinner, and while those chips, cookies, or crackers from the school vending machine may look appetizing when you feel hunger strike, they really are going to do very little to keep you feeling satiated, and ready to keep going with your late-night studying or afternoon sports practice.
So What Makes a Snack Balanced, Anyway?
It really doesn’t have to be complicated, a balanced snack (or meal for the matter) really is just a type of food, or pairing of foods that checks these three boxes:
Satisfies hunger for a minimum of 3 hours: To make sure that your hunger is satisfied your snack has to include fat, fiber, and/or protein. Without these nutritional components you will be back feeling hungry in no time.
Promotes balanced blood sugar: To keep your blood sugar balance and prevent that glittery spike and then subsequent crash in energy it’s important to make sure you pair the carbohydrates (or sugar) in your snacks with a source of fat or protein. Fat and protein act like the traffic cops in your body keeping sugar from rushing too fast into your blood stream.
Nutrient dense: This means that you are getting an adequate amount of nutrition in the form of vitamins, minerals, fiber, protein, carbohydrates, or fat.
Example: Potato chips are not nutrient dense, but an apple with almond butter is.
So now that we know what makes up a healthy, balanced snack, why don’t we go through some delicious, simple snacks that every college student can rely on to get them through the busy school year, and all those late nights.
10 Balanced Snacks for the Busy College Student
Hummus and Veggies - Hummus is one of my favorite plant-based snacks that is perfect for on-the-go snacking. Since hummus is both a carbohydrate and protein, I love pairing it with some fresh cut veggies like cucumber and carrots for a perfectly balanced snack.
Protein Bars - Not all protein bars are created equal, that is why it is always important to check the ingredients in your favorite protein bars, and choose an option that is high in protein, and free of too much added sugar. I love these homemade protein bars, and of course you can’t go wrong with the many ALOHA protein bar flavors.
Protein Bites - Every snack is better when it comes in perfect little bites that are ready to take on the go for easy, healthy snacking. One of my favorite homemade protein bites are they Goji Cashew Protein Bites made using ALOHA’s Vanilla Protein Powder for an added boost of healthy plant-based protein.
Green Smoothie - If there is anything I recommend that every college student invest in, it’s a small blender that you can use to blend up healthy smoothies to take as snacks, or even a quick breakfast for your 8am class. Since many college students have a hard time getting enough fruits and veggies, adding a balanced green smoothie into your diet is an easy way to get in more of those healthy greens. Here is one of my favorite and deliciously balanced recipes.
Protein Packed Nut Butter with Apple - You really can never go wrong with nut butters and a nice whole piece of fruit. The fat in the nut butter balances out the carbohydrate in the fruit, and will keep you feeling full longer. I love this protein packed homemade nut butter recipe that is easy to make with a blender and store in larger batches for easy snacking.
Gluten Free Berry Overnight Oats - Overnight oats are one of the easiest snacks that can be made with very little space in a crowded dorm room. All you really need is some dairy-free milk, oats, and a mason jar and you can have voluminous oats for your morning snack or a quick and easy breakfast on the go. I love adding some fresh berries and nuts to my overnight oats, but the beauty of these oats is that you can really customize them anyway you like. Check out the simple recipe here.
Layered Chocolate Coconut Chia Pudding - Chia pudding is another simple snack, somewhat similar to overnight oats that can easily be made ahead of time. All you have to do is shake the chia pudding ingredients together in a mason jar, and then allow the mixture to sit overnight. In the morning you have a delicious chia pudding that is full of fiber, protein, and healthy omega-3’s. Find my favorite layered chia pudding recipe here.
Unsweetened Coconut Yogurt or Unsweetened Organic Greek Yogurt with Fresh Berries and Pumpkin Seeds - Yogurt, both non-dairy and organic greek yogurt are great options to rely on for a balanced snack. Always make sure to choose an unsweetened variety and add your own berries, nuts, and seeds to give it a nutritional boost. I love adding pumpkin seeds to my mid-day morning yogurt since they are loaded with zinc and an excellent natural way to help promote balanced hormones. Read more about the powerful nutritional properties in pumpkin seeds here.
Two Hard Boiled Eggs with Carrots and Cucumber - Eggs are a complete, balanced package, and are perfect for a quick snack to take on the go. I love boiling up a dozen ahead of time and having them for easy snacks to grab from the fridge during the week.
Tahini and Banana Toast with Cinnamon - Tahini is one of the most underrated nut butters out there and is absolutely delicious when paired with 1/2 sliced banana, a sprinkle of cinnamon, and a piece of whole-grain sprouted bread.
Eating healthy during the busy college school year doesn’t have to be complicated, and it should taste amazing. By preparing yourself with any of these 10 balanced healthy snacks, you will be sure to curb hunger, promote balanced blood sugar, and maintain a steady state of energy that will help you do all the amazing things you are meant to do this school year.
Megan Faletra is an Integrative Registered Dietitian, and founder of The Well Essentials where she is devoted to inspiring others to create an authentic life through good food, sustainable choices, and most importantly lots and lots of love. Her philosophy centers on supporting individuals to live with more intent and less out of habit. She aims to help others rethink their relationship with food, and how they choose to consume, and in doing so change the way they view world, and most importantly how they impact it. Megan consults on nutrition and global health issues both domestically and abroad, and works with nutrition patients individually in Boston, MA.
Megan holds a Master of Science in Nutrition from Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition and a Master of Public Health from Tufts University School of Medicine. She received her clinical training through Brigham and Women’s Harvard Affiliated Teaching Hospital and is also a certified yoga instructor. In her spare time can be found taking photos, practicing her handstands, or traveling the world with her husband.