If you’re anything like me, the assignments, pressure and gum whitening terror have all piled up and you’ve stopped eating correctly; abandoning any kind of nutritional sense for a mix of caffeine, cheap, slipshod carbohydrates and desperation.
I see you there, your desk ornamented with fourteen empty coffee cups, pretzel crumbs and the smeared vestiges of a chocolate bar, trying to cram a stack of Pringles and an entire semester of STAT into your head at the same time.
Let’s be honest, this sullen-eyed dehydration coupled with caffeine jitters and a minor case of rickets, is probably not Milan’s next hot look, and, more importantly this diet of shame and cheese sticks is turning your brain into gruel just when you need it to be firing on all cylinders.
“What’s to be done?” you may ask. “I am hungry, stressed, abysmally poor, busy and the most complicated meal in my repertoire is instant mi goreng.” Fear not, before being washed upon the shore of this university, your humble author spent two decades at the hospitality coalface as a chef, restaurateur and culinary educator, and I’m happy to share these snacking hints and tips that all sit in that Venn diagram sweet spot between cheap, tasty and easy.
Nuts are full of natural, healthy fats and much more nutritious than a bag of chips. You can buy them pre-roasted, but they’re much cheaper raw and you can toast them yourself. Just place in a 180°C oven for 10 minutes, giving them a quick toss about half way through. Or how about a smear of peanut, almond or cashew butter on a rice cake, or in the hollow of a celery stick, to keep you slogging through all those readings you missed.
Caffeine is great. Without it I might never get out the door. If you’re a little foggy and need to focus up, by all means have a cup, but mainlining coffee all day will just leave you scattered and confused. Green tea is gentle with the caffeine and might even make you feel wise while you chew through the 12 weeks of Introduction to Philosophy you thought would be an easy elective.
I understand not many of us can afford smoked salmon at this point in our lives, but oily fish, such as salmon, tuna and sardines, is loaded with Omega 3 Fatty Acids. I don’t know what that means but it’s always thrown about as damn good for you and often linked with cognition. Grab a few cans of tuna, mix them with some mayonnaise and eat them with wholemeal crackers. If you’re vegetarian, or vegan, get stuck into the chia and flax seeds, or consider a vegan friendly Omega 3 supplement.
Everyone loves hummus, it’s also super good for you and, if you want to make your own, it’s dirt cheap. Add to that a few fresh veggies and you can have a 70s dinner party right at your desk. On your own. Play some disco. Eat with some carrot sticks, cucumber wedges, snow peas, sliced apple, raw cauliflower or broccoli florets. Blob some hummus in the bottom of a jar and fill the remainder with crudités and come to uni like a walking, talking Pinterest page.
Avocados have not only become a symbol of housing affordability protest, but are also delicious and full of things your body needs. Smear them on some wholegrain toast or crackers and sprinkle them with something tasty, like lemon juice, sumac, dukkha or chilli flakes. Or, make a guacamole with lime juice and olive oil and hoover them down with some corn chips.
While we’re on the topic of whole grains, if you want an extended boost of energy avoid the simple white carbs and opt for something more substantial. White carbs like potato, white flour and rice are converted into simple energy and burnt through super quick, leaving you worse off than before. Wholegrains take a bit of work for your body to process and the energy boost they give you has a nice, slow release.
Speaking of slow release energy, grab some fruit. Fructose gives you a quick pop of vivacity, but unlike lollies or fruit juice your body must do a bit of work to process it all. There’s also vitamins and stuff, I think that’s important.
Eating leafy, dark greens like spinach, silverbeet and kale is a bit like eating those little Styrofoam packing beads from your last amazon delivery. But if you wilt it in some miso soup, throw in some leftover veggies and chopped spring onion you have a pick me up beyond compare. If you’re vegetarian or vegan look for miso that doesn’t contain bonito. I swear whenever I feel close to complete physical and/or emotional collapse a cup of miso always pulls me back from the brink.
Don’t forget to hydrate! Dehydration is the number one cause of mushy student brain, bad skin, shonky breath and hangovers. Keep a bottle of water with you always, and take a sip every time you wish you were on holidays… actually maybe don’t do that, people have died from hyponatremia and I don’t remember you signing a waiver before reading this.
Exams are coming up fast. You’re probably cramming enough junk into your brain without adding garbage food as well, so feed your body with healthy snacks and even when your brain implodes from the end of semester mania you’ll have a body with the regenerative powers of Wolverine.
Want more nutrition tips, tricks and advice? Check out @UON_DT a student led initiative focused on improving the nutritional health and wellbeing of university students through the provision of evidence-based nutrition advice and healthy, easy meal and snack recipes to get you through the uni grind!