Trying to eat healthy as a student can be a challenge! Factors such as living away from home for the first time, a limited budget and time pressures may lead to poor and erratic eating habits, such as an increased intake of processed foods and takeaways and a low intake of fresh fruit and vegetables. Learning to eat healthily is a life skill and can have positive effects on your energy levels, concentration, weight management and academic success.
In this section we share our top tips to help you eat healthy at university. There are links to healthier options on campus as well as websites with great nutritional information and cooking recipes! DCU also has a Community Garden where you can get fresh produce for a small donation or you can learn and practice growing your own food. Make healthy eating a priority for you and you will reap the benefits in the short and long term and start to love food again.
Nutrients are substances that provide nourishment to our body which is essential to maintain life and grow. These substances are commonly broken down into two large groups;
As it says in the name, macronutrients are the nutrients that we consume in large amounts and make up the greater portion of our diet. They are also the part of the diet that supplies us with the bulk of our energy in our body, in the form of calories.This term is further broken down to 4 subheadings;
Protein, Carbohydrates and Fat are all essential in providing energy, and the ability for our body to grow, develop and change over time.
Protein is essential for muscle growth and repair; good sources include meat and dairy. Good alternative sources for those following a vegan or vegetarian diet include, tofu, lentils, beans, quinoa, chickpeas, fish & eggs.
Carbohydrates provide humans with their main source of energy. There are three main categories of carbohydrates, these are;
Often times, many people rely on sugary/ultra processed foods as their main source of energy, however sugary foods only supply energy for a short amount of time. Instead we should try to replace these sugary foods with alternatives that are high in fibre. Fibre is a type of carbohydrate, it takes longer to move through our digestive system and therefore keeps us feeling fuller and more energised for a longer period of time. Good sources of fibre include; Whole grain/brown rice and pasta, skins of fruit e.g. the skin of an apple, prunes, most vegetables, pulses and soda bread.
Fat can be used by the body as a source of energy when consuming a low carbohydrate diet. Fat in the diet is also needed to make hormones and help absorb other nutrients. Fat can be divided into two main categories, saturated and unsaturated fat.
Saturated fat mainly comes from animal sources. It is often attributed to high cholesterol and heart disease, however while excess saturated fat can have this effect, when eaten in moderation and combination with unsaturated fat, it should be included in the diet.
Unsaturated or ‘good’ fat comes from plant and fish sources. These fats reverse the detrimental damage of the saturated fat by removing cholesterol build up from arteries. Good sources of unsaturated fat include; salmon, avocado, olive oil, nuts and seeds.
You may not have known this but alcohol is considered a macronutrient. This is due to the large amount of calories it contributes to the diet. Alcohol is very energy dense, however the kilocalories it supplies are often referred to as ‘empty kilocalories’. This means that alcohol has no nutritional value in the diet i.e. all it does is increase your energy intake (calories) without any beneficial function to the body.
Excess alcohol consumption can be detrimental to human health. Many people are unaware of the size of one unit of alcohol and what is the upper limit of consumption.
The upper limit of consumption for men is 17 units and for women is 11 units of alcohol per week, with at least two to three alcohol free days.
To put this into perspective, click the link below:
There are now a number of apps and websites where you can calculate your alcohol consumption and how much it is costing you. Why not give it a try:
Micronutrients are substances needed in very small amounts, however their role is just as important as macronutrients. They allow the body to produce enzymes, hormones and other substances that are essential for maintenance, growth and development. Micronutrients are broken down into two classes;
Vitamins and minerals are essential nutrients. This means that they cannot be made in the body and must be consumed in our diets. There are two classes of vitamins;
- Fat soluble – Vitamin A, D, E, K; These are absorbed with fats and oils in the diet and can be stored in the body. Good sources include: eggs, fish, fortified dairy products (e.g. super milk), nuts & seeds, green leafy vegetables (e.g. spinach, broccoli, kale).
- Water Soluble – Vitamin B, C; These are absorbed with water in food, straight into the blood. Good dietary sources include: Meat, leafy green vegetables, citrus fruits.
Minerals, like vitamins are needed for many different functions in the body. Some of these include; assisting in the growth and development process, helping to produce hormones and transmit nerve signals. Some minerals that are essential for growth and development include, calcium, iron, sodium and phosphorus. These are essential for maintaining strong bones and teeth, energy levels and maintaining a stable blood pressure.
By eating a balanced and varied diet you should be able to include all nutrients in your diet.
Staying hydrated is so important, but sometimes we can find ourselves going through the day drinking little or no liquids. For those of you who may find it difficult to stay hydrated throughout the day, we have put together a list of tips to help you!
- Carry a reusable bottle with you throughout the day. This will also help reduce your costs by filling it up at the many water fountains on campus!
- You don’t just have to drink water to stay hydrated. However, it is important to ensure that you aren’t consuming drinks that are high in sugar, or that could damage your teeth regularly, such as fizzy drinks, tea, coffee. Instead consume these in moderation and why not try milk or homemade smoothies as these are great nutritious substitutes for plain water!
- If you find it difficult to remember to drink throughout the day, why not do it on a schedule i.e. drink with each meal.
While all of the nutrients that have been mentioned have a role in the body and should be included in a varied and balanced diet, the amount of each nutrient that should be consumed can vary greatly from person to person.
There are some general guidelines, such as;
1. The 'Food Pyramid’ that is used in Ireland
2. ‘Choose myplate.gov’ image that is used in the US
3. ‘Eatwell Guide’ that is used in the UK
These three initiatives use images and can be extremely useful in helping you to estimate your portion size for each meal and eat a balanced diet.
If you are having trouble with serving/portion size make sure to check out:
Food labels can often be difficult to understand due to the small print and overload of information that can be found on them.
To make it easier for you, we have put together a list of the top 5 pieces of information to look out for on a food label:
1. The Recommended Portion Size – This is usually displayed at the back of the label, it is a handy guide to use to ensure you are eating the correct portion size for one serving.
2. Traffic Light Labelling – Many brands choose to include traffic light labelling on their products. As it says in the name, this means that they use the colours green, amber and red to identify if the food is high or low in a specific nutrient by comparing the amount in the food to the current Irish guidelines. Traffic light labelling usually applies to:
- Saturates (saturated fat)
Green = Level is low, this is a ‘healthy’ choice
Amber = Level is medium
Red = High level, this is an ‘unhealthy’ choice
3. Carbohydrate Content – This section is usually broken down into sugars, starch and then a separate row for fibre. Aim to choose foods high in fibre (above 6g of fibre per 100g of food) and low in sugar (less than 5g of sugar per 100g of the food).
4. Cooking Instructions – Most food products have preparation and cooking instructions included in their labels. These can be really handy if you are attempting to cook something new or are looking for some help when preparing your meals.
5. Buzz Words – Buzzwords such as ‘low-fat’ and ‘sugar-free’ are often included on food labels to entice you, the customer, to buy their product, but what exactly do these buzzwords mean? We have attached a table that will help explain the meaning behind these.
Buzz Words Commonly Found on Food Labels
Less than 5g of sugar per 100g portion
No added sugar, but it still contains sugars that are naturally found in the food
No added Sugar
No extra sugar has been added to the food
More than 6g of fibre per 100g serving of that food
Less than 3g of fat per 100g serving of a solid food or less than 1.5g of fat per 100ml of a liquid
The food has less than 0.5g of fat per 100g of the food
There is less than 0.3g of salt in the food
At least 20% of the energy value of the food must come from protein
Protein content must be increased by at least 30% compared to a similar product
For more information on food labels and buzz words check out;
University can be an expensive time for everyone. Between college fees, accommodation, utility bills, college supplies and socialising, sometimes your wallet may be light come Sunday evening when you need to do your food shopping. At DCU Healthy we want to help make this financial burden easier by giving you some of our top tips on how to shop healthy on a budget!
1. Bulk Buying – This is an age old technique but it really can save you lots of money over the year. Budget every 1-2 months for foods that will keep such as pasta, rice, nuts and tinned foods. This allows you to buy larger quantities without letting any food go to waste, this will not only help you save money but it allows you to become more environmentally friendly by reducing on your packaging.
2. Meat in Moderation – While meat can be a great source of protein, it is not necessary to include it in every meal. Instead, why not try ‘meat in moderation’. By swapping out a cut of meat for an alternative such as beans, peas or lentils you will see big savings in your shopping bill. Another option is to choose a cheaper cut of meat such as minced beef or chicken thigh. By adopting a ‘flexitarian’ diet you will not only save yourself some money but you can also help fight the growing problem of climate change. Flexitarian diets can help to slow down problems such as deforestation for farmland, and decreasing emissions from livestock and fertiliser through a decrease in demand.
For more information on the environmental impacts of eating meat in moderation visit, European Environment Agency.
For more information on buying and preparing cheaper cuts of meat visit, Safefood.eu.
3. ‘Fake-away’ v Takeaway – University is often a time where we tend to overindulge on foods that aren’t always ‘healthy’. Why not replicate your favourite takeaway meal, saving money  and making the healthier choice on the way! Head to our recipes section where we have included some ‘fake-away’ options. By reducing your takeaway consumption you could help cut down on carbon emissions and waste as no delivery is necessary and less packaging is used! This means you are helping the environment as well as benefiting your own health!
At DCU healthy we understand that a lot of students are commuters. We know how difficult it can be trying to get out of the house on an early morning, never mind the organisation that’s involved in keeping yourself fed and hydrated for the day without spending too much money. We have put together some of our top tips to help you stay one step ahead while commuting!
At DCU healthy we know that every extra second in bed counts, so why not give yourself that luxury by preparing your lunches for the week on Sunday evening?!
Breakfast is the meal that kick-starts your day. Be prepared and have breakfast on your commute to college or when you arrive on campus! By choosing to kick start your metabolism later in the day it can help you to avoid making bad snack choices.
University life can be hectic. Between lectures, assignments, exercising, making new friends and much more it is easy to find yourself burnt out. By making smart snack choices that aren’t just full of sugar, but are nutritious and tasty too, you are fuelling your body between meals.
Our top ‘Smart Snacks’ are;
- To curb your sweet cravings; Smoothies & Fruit
- For a crunch; Mixed seeds and nuts or rice cakes
- To satisfy your hunger; Apple slices and peanut butter or crackers with cheese or hummus.
Commuting means you don’t get the luxury of home comforts on campus unlike some of your peers who may live on DCU campus. To make life easier, we have compiled a list of common facilities on campus that you might find useful;
DCU Glasnevin Campus
DCU, St. Patrick’s College Campus
DCU, All Hallows Campus
In the Inter Faith Centre.
Only available in on campus accommodation.
Only available in on campus accommodation.
Located in the seomra caidrimh.
Common Dining Spaces
- Main Canteen (during peak hours)
- Other catering facilities on campus during off peak hours can be used by students to eat their own lunch, they are not required to buy something
- Main Restaurant
- Main Restaurant
Located in Inter Faith Centre Kitchen - Food left here is at students own risk
Located in Seomra Caidrimh for those involved in cumann gaelach.
None available on campus to non-residents.
- U Building open from 7.30am
- Inter Faith Centre open from 8am
- Quiet Space located above C block.
DCU Sport provides FREE showers to staff & students who cycle to campus, up to
9:45am Monday - Friday.
A valid staff/student card can be handed in at the Sports Complex Reception in order to avail of this facility
Showers can also be accessed at any time
outside of the above hours for €2.00 per shower.
Albert College showers are available to Staff and
Postgraduate Students free of charge
Showers located in St. Patricks College gym
None available on campus to non-residents
Phone and Laptop chargers located in the U Building & Inter Faith Centre can be used by students
Phone charging unit located in SU space on campus
None available to non-residents
Your Relationship with Food
A good relationship with food and a healthy weight are central to your physical and emotional wellbeing. It is not uncommon for young people in a new environment to experience troubles with eating; but it is important to address this before it seriously impacts health and wellbeing.
Here are a few tips of things to look out for and to recognise when you may need some advice.
- Feeling out of control around food
- Binge eating or compulsive eating
- Attempting to compensate for eating by vomiting, using laxatives, exercising or restricting
- Feeling restricted in life activities because of body size or feelings about one’s body
- Feeling like weight loss will be a solution to unhappiness or uncomfortable situations
- Experiencing negative thoughts and feelings about appearance or body size
- Fearing weight gain
- Having body measurements determine someone’s mood or feelings about themselves
If you are experiencing any of the above issues, or have other worries about food or body image, it may be helpful to seek further information, advice, or help from the Student Advice Centre or the Student Health Centre.
Some other useful supports and services off campus include:
Spun Out - Healthy Eating
Often times you may know someone who is experiencing troubles with their relationship with food or body image. To understand how you can best support them check out the articles below.
Spun Out - Eating Disorders
Support Services & Help Lines
Debunking the Myths around Food
- “Organic Food is nutritionally better” – This is NOT true. Organic foods are those that have been grown without the use of any chemical fertilizers or pesticides, so while they the absence of chemicals may be better for our health in the long run, it does not mean that the nutritional value of the food is any better. In fact the only difference that you, the consumer, might notice is that the foods are usually more expensive.
- “A high protein diet alone builds muscle” – This is not true. Protein can aid muscle protein synthesis, a scientific measure of muscle growth, when eaten in conjunction with strength training. Eating a high protein diet alone without doing exercise will not build muscle.
- “You can drink tea/coffee in the afternoon and evening without it affecting your sleep” – this is NOT true. Caffeine has a half-life of approximately 7 hours. This means that if you have a cup of coffee at 3pm by 10 pm only half of the amount of caffeine you have consumed will have made its way through your system. So while you may have no problem getting to sleep, your overall sleep quality will be affected and will continue to contribute to tiredness.
- “Consuming apple cider vinegar will help you lose weight” – there is currently no evidence to suggest that apple cider vinegar plays a role in weight loss. Therefore the hype around it may be the result of a placebo effect.
- “Dinner should be the biggest meal of the day” - For most people this is not true. Unless you are eating your dinner in the middle of the day, it is usually the last meal people eat before they go to bed. Sleep is where we use the least amount of energy, therefore you should try to consume the bulk of your energy earlier in the day. Why not try to adjust your portion sizing to fit this.
- 40g porridge Oats
- 240ml of low fat milk or water
1. Put your oats and the milk/water into a bowl.
2. Place in the microwave and heat for between 2 to 2 and a half minutes.
3. You can stop the microwave and stir your oats occasionally.
4. Top your porridge with fruit, nuts or honey.
Granola, Fruit & Yoghurt
1 pot low fat natural yoghurt
1 serving of granola
Chopped fruit/berries of choice
1. Mix everything together.
Overnight Oats (Safe Food/Operation Transformation)
- 30g of porridge oats
- 100ml of Milk
- 30g of Yoghurt (Greek, Natural, Strawberry)
- 30g of your preferred fruit eg.fresh/frozen berries, banana, apple
1. Mix the porridge oats, milk and yoghurt altogether in a bowl or food container, cover & leave in the fridge overnight.
2. The next morning stir the oat mixture before adding in your fruits of choice and mixing together.
3. The overnight oats are now ready to be served.
Add a burger bun, cheese, tomato, gherkins and your sauce of choice.
- 1 teaspoon of olive oil
- 1 small onion, diced
- 1 clove of garlic, crushed
- 400 g of lean minced beef
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Black pepper to taste
1. Place the diced onion and crushed garlic in a bowl.
2. Add the mince and egg to the bowl. Mix well and season with pepper.
3. Shape the mixture into 4 thick burgers – use some flour on your hands to prevent the meat sticking.
4. Place on a covered plate or in a sealable container & keep cool in the fridge until ready to cook.
5. Cook the burgers in a hot frying pan with some olive oil for at least 10–12 minutes each side until cooked through.
6. When cooked, serve the burger immediately in the bun and dress as desired.
- 10ml vegetable oil
- 200g kidney beans
- ½ dessert spoon paprika
- 10ml water
- ½ tsp garlic powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ tsp sugar
- Pinch of chilli powder
- 50g cooked and cooled rice
- Soft wrap
- Sour cream/ natural yoghurt
1. Place the oil, paprika, garlic powder, salt, sugar, chilli powder and water in a saucepan & stir together until smooth.
2. Add the rice & coat well with the wet spicy mixture, taking care not to over mix or the rice will go mushy.
3. Add the kidney beans and stir gently to coat the beans in the rice and spice mix.
4. Now turn on the heat and heat gently until the mixture is warm. Take care not to over mix, but keep the mixture moving to prevent it from sticking. Add more water if the mixture is too dry.
5. While the beans and rice are warming up, prepare your wrap by warming it up.
6. Serve the bean and rice mixture on the wrap, and top with your toppings of choice.
- 1 chicken breast
- 6g plain flour
- 12g bread crumbs
- 12g porridge oats
- 1 egg
1. Preheat oven to 180°C / 350°F / Gas Mark 4.
2. Cut the chicken into strips.
3. Beat the eggs in a bowl.
4. Mix the breadcrumbs and porridge oats together and then scatter on a plate.
5. Place the flour on a plate.
6. Roll the chicken strips in the flour.
7. Dip the chicken into the beaten egg.
8. Roll the chicken strips in the breadcrumb mixture until they are fully coated.
9. Cook in the oven for 15–20 minutes until cooked through.
Spicy Potato Wedges
- 2 medium potatoes
- 10ml vegetable oil
- ½ tsp cayenne pepper
- black pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 200°C / 400°F / Gas Mark 6.
2. Wash and cut the potatoes into 8 wedges (leave skin on).
3. Place in a container and pour the vegetable oil over them. Close the container and shake.
4. Sprinkle the wedges with cayenne pepper and pepper, close the container and shake again.
5. Place the wedges on the baking tray.
6. Cook for 35 minutes until golden brown
Vegan Chickpea & Lentil Curry
- ½ tbsp of vegetable oil
- ½ medium onion, peeled and diced
- 1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed/finely chopped
- ½ tin of chopped tomatoes (200g)
- 1 tsp of curry powder
- 1 tsp of ground ginger
- ½ tin of drained chickpeas (200g).
- ½ medium tomato, chopped
- ½ medium red pepper, d-eseeded and diced
- 50g red lentils
- 120g of rice
-150g of spinach
1. Heat the oil in a non-stick saucepan and when hot, add the onion.
2. Next add the garlic, tomatoes, curry powder and ginger and cook for another 2-3 minutes
3. Add the chickpeas, tomato, red pepper and lentils and cook for a further 15 minutes over a medium heat, stirring occasionally
4. In the meantime, cook rice according to packet instructions, omitting any salt.
5. After your curry has simmered for 20 minutes, add the spinach leaves and let them wilt into the curry for the remaining 5 minutes of cooking time
6. Drain the rice and serve alongside the curry.
For even more quick & easy recipes check out Safefood.eu 101 square meals!
Sample Daily Meal Plan
The ethos governing this initiative will be that it is an open, all inclusive community garden, that will be utilised as a resource for teaching, research, education, training, recreation and community engagement. As a community garden work is undertaken jointly and reward is based on time commited to the garden. Your time spent in the garden is recorded by you in the Garden time record book in Shed II - it is your responsibility to record your time accurately. Garden tasks will be displayed on the notice board in Shed II - if you have completed a task please cross it off the list.
Click here for directions and ways to get involved.
Click here to test your 'healthy eating' knowledge & habits!
Off Campus Supports & Useful Websites
- Healthy Eating Guidelines
- Irish Heat Foundation Recipes
- Spunout.ie Healthy Eating
- Safe Food Recipes
- Learn to Cook
- 101 Square Meals Cookbook by Safe Food & MABS
- A Lust for Life Nutrition