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Prairie Fare: Take These Lessons Along to College

Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist Julie Garden-Robinson, NDSU Extension Service food and nutrition specialist
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When high school graduates leave home for further education or a job, they get their long-awaited freedom from parents and family rules.

By Julie Garden-Robinson, Food and Nutrition Specialist

NDSU Extension Service

As I walked around a department store perusing some items on my son’s college dorm room supply list, I thought back to my college years. I could fit everything I needed for my college dorm, plus my bike, in the back of the small hatchback car I drove during college.

Although my son’s dorm room list was fairly generic (sheets, towels, etc.), the choices at the store were abundant and wide-ranging in price and quality.

When I was my son’s age, I am fairly sure that the colors of my towels and washcloths did not “coordinate” with the color of my bedspread. I had no decorative decals to adorn the walls. I used a plastic ice cream bucket to carry my stuff to the community bathroom, not a fancy tote.

When high school graduates leave home for further education or a job, they get their long-awaited freedom from parents and family rules. They are free to set up and maintain their limited living space as they prefer, often in collaboration with a roommate.

They are on their own to get up in the morning, eat, do their homework, arrive at part-time jobs on time and attend to all their other responsibilities. Then there’s the all-important social life. We, as parents, hope that some of the lessons we have tried to instill along their path to adulthood “stick.”

College brings new responsibilities, opportunities to learn and grow as young adults, plus many temptations and some risks. Here are a few tips about staying healthy for young adults, most of which also apply to the rest of us who aren’t so young anymore. These are adapted from tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  • Have a medical checkup and be sure your vaccinations are up to date. Be aware of your family history and let your health-care provider know. If you know you might be at risk for diabetes, cancer or heart disease, prevention steps, such as a healthful diet and activity, should begin when you are young. Know the campus health resources.
  • Get your sleep. Yes, it’s tempting to stay up all night with your buddies in the dorm or “pull an all-nighter” to prepare for an exam. However, we all need plenty of sleep (about eight hours) to avoid being sluggish and having difficulty concentrating. In the long term, too little sleep is linked with obesity, heart disease, diabetes and depression. Be sure to limit caffeine and stick with a sleep schedule, even on weekends.
  • Get some exercise. Fitness experts recommend, on average, about 2.5 hours of physical activity per week, or about 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on five or more days of the week. Exercise helps reduce stress and promotes the maintenance of a healthy weight. For fun and health, college students can join an intramural sports team or find an exercise buddy to visit the gym.
  • Eat a healthful diet. Campus cuisine features ample buffet lines and vending machines. The wide array of foods can promote the overconsumption of calories, and potentially, a weight gain of 15 pounds (“the freshman 15”). However, be sure to get up early enough to eat some breakfast. Your brain needs fuel, and a protein-containing breakfast will help you feel full longer and can help with weight maintenance. In addition, eating disorders also can become an issue during college years, so be aware of campus counseling resources.
  • Avoid substance abuse. According to the CDC, about 80 percent of college students drink alcohol, which is not only illegal if you are under the age of 21, but it also is linked with many other risky behaviors, including smoking. Cigarette smoking can have lifelong health consequences, including cancer and respiratory problems.

I could go on and on, as my son well knows, but I will stop with those tips for now. Although my firstborn is moving out of our home, his dorm is only a block from my office. I’m not sure he realizes our proximity; maybe he will visit me once in a while. I have a lot more advice for him that is available upon request.

During the past several years, I have worked with my college interns to create a series of handouts called “Cooking 101.” The handouts feature nutrition tips, recipes and menus to help young adults and others prepare affordable, quick and nutritious meals. They are available at (Click on Singles and Couples.)

Here’s a healthful snack that makes use of garden-fresh produce. A video showing how to make this recipe is available at

Arriba Nacho Dip

1 (15-ounce) can refried beans

4-ounce bag of shredded cheddar cheese

1 recipe fresh salsa (or substitute 4 c. prepared salsa)

Fresh Salsa Recipe

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 c. onion, finely chopped

1 c. green bell pepper, finely chopped

1/2 jalapeno pepper, finely chopped

3 large Roma tomatoes, chopped

1/4 c. cilantro leaves, finely chopped

1/4 c. lemon juice

Mix the salsa ingredients together and alter the recipe to suit your own taste preferences.

Mix the can of refried beans with salsa and cook for about 20 minutes. Add cheese and stir until melted and then pour into a serving dish. Serve with raw vegetables, whole-grain crackers or baked tortilla chips.

Makes 12 servings. Each serving has 60 calories, 0.5 grams (g) of fat, 4 g of protein, 8 g of carbohydrate, 2 g of fiber and 230 milligrams of sodium.

(Julie Garden-Robinson, Ph.D., R.D., L.R.D., is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

NDSU Agriculture Communication – July 25, 2013

Source:Julie Garden-Robinson, (701) 231-7187,
Editor:Rich Mattern, (701) 231-6136,
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