College is a time for learning, self-discovery, and of course fun times with friends. However, many students develop poor health habits during their years on campus, especially when it comes to diet. I was one of these people.
Fast food restaurants were all over campus, and pretty much from my first day of class, I gave in to temptation every day.
A cheeseburger and fries after a history quiz? Sure.
A big burrito with a side of chips and queso after biology class? Why not.
After all, my friends were eating those things. Who had time to cook, especially if they lived in a dorm room where all they had was a hot plate and a mini-fridge? It was fun and easy at first, but sure enough, I soon fell victim to the “freshman 15”, and then some.
I was embarrassed. Not only had I gained weight and gone up at least one pant size, but I felt like garbage every day. Even though I was working out regularly, I wasn’t seeing any results. My grades even began to suffer. It wasn’t a good time.
But then things changed.
It was around my junior year when I discovered keto and the process of ketosis.
After experiencing some incredible results early on, I was determined to figure out how to eat keto in college. It was a challenge at first, but I eventually nailed down some tips and techniques that helped me be successful in losing weight and getting healthy again.
In this article, I will break down some of the insider hacks and tips I used to learn how to eat keto in college.
The mindset before you discover how to eat keto in college
Listen, I know firsthand how difficult it can be to start limiting your body to very small amounts of carbohydrates and sugar. It can be a total shock to the system, especially in a society where nearly every meal we have includes carbs and processed sugars.
Begin by changing up your routine. Take a different route to class. Don’t walk past those fast food spots that call your name every day. Maybe you have some friends who will consider joining you. Surrounding yourself with a group of health-conscious and like-minded people can be crucial to keto success.
Spending a few days getting comfortable with fewer carbs is also key. I took 3 days to myself to wean off carbs slowly–first I cut out the breakfast cereal. Cereal was an extremely difficult habit to break, and it could be for you too. It’s one of those foods that seem healthy, but really disguises a lot of sugar and carbs.
Day 2, I cut out the sandwich at lunch. This was also not easy, but I found once I had reduced my cereal intake, the sandwich was the next domino to fall. Like cereal, sandwiches seem like a modest choice for lunch. Don’t be fooled.
By Day 3, I went for the jugular and cut most carbs out of my dinner routine. Dinner for me was by far the hardest hurdle to jump, and I will get more into that later in this article.
To summarize, here is a breakdown of my three day acclimation period for getting started on keto:
- Day 1: cut out breakfast cereal
- Day 2: cut out sandwiches
- Day 3: cut out carb-heavy dinner (more on that later)
So after 3 days of gradually cutting out some problem foods, I was ready to kick keto into full gear. The first battle I faced: breakfast.
If you live in a dorm, chances are you have a microwave. You probably also have a mug. And get this, you can make some pretty delicious scrambled eggs with nothing more than these two things. Every morning I would crack 3 or 4 eggs into a mug, and mix in a pat of butter. Whisk with a fork thoroughly and pop in the microwave for about 45 seconds.
After 45 seconds, take out the mug and check your eggs. Depending on your microwave they could be done already. If not, put in for another 20-30 seconds or so. Careful, the mug will be very hot. The eggs should make kind of a mushroom cloud flowing over the mug. Delicious, and easy to enjoy straight from the mug itself. Sprinkle some shredded cheese on for some extra protein.
If microwaves aren’t your thing or if it’s all crusty and nasty from your weird roommate, you can definitely find a keto breakfast at your dining hall. Hit the eggs and sausage patties hard, but be sure to ask the cooks what they make their eggs with. You don’t want any filler ingredients or just milk as the dairy ingredient. See if they use butter or cheese instead.
If you’re tired of eggs (we’ve all been there), you can pick up some ready-cooked bacon at the grocery store and pop it in a microwave or toaster oven, just make sure there is no added sugar.
In terms of size and calories, it could be a good idea to make this your heaviest meal of the day. I find that when I eat a breakfast consisting of 750+ calories, I tend to be less hungry throughout the day. So consider having 4 eggs with a generous amount of butter, or an extra sausage link or 2. Eggs are an all-around superstar food when it comes to teaching your body how to eat keto in college.
Keto shouldn’t be all about meat, butter, and cheese. You’re going to need some greens to fill out a complete daily nutrition profile, and lunch is a great time to do it. Do yourself a favor and hit the frozen vegetable aisle in the grocery store. There, you will see some “steam in bag” options. My personal keto-friendly favorites include:
- Steam-in-bag broccoli florets
- Steam-in-bag string beans
- Steam-in-bag spinach
The steamed spinach is really versatile because you can melt some shredded cheese when it’s done cooking. This is a quick way to get some protein, fat, greens, and antioxidants in your system by midday.
If you want to hit the school cafeteria, you can still head for the trusty sandwich station. Turkey breast will be your new best friend–turn two thick slices into the “bread” and pile high with produce. Juicy tomatoes, crisp romaine, and tons of pickles are great additions to any sandwich.
Don’t forget the mustard–wow, have you been down the condiment aisle lately? There are so many varieties of mustard, many of which have little to no sugar. I like a spicy horseradish or a fresh stoneground variety. Slather onto your turkey sandwich and you’ve got a powerful keto lunch ready to go.
Roast beef is also a great choice, especially with a few slices of avocado and some hot sauce. With this combination, you will get your protein, fat, and flavor all in one stop. Just like mustard, there are dozens of varieties of hot sauces at the store, and maybe at your school cafeteria too. Cholula and Tabasco sauces are incredible but tend to be more expensive than some other varieties. Give a few a try.
Lunch can be your time to show a little flavor and personality in how you style your keto diet. Unlike traditional breakfast foods, lunch has a huge variety of low-carb options that are as easy to make in your dorm room as they are to get from the dining hall.
Ah, dinner. That fickle beast of a meal. That time of night when carbs call to us like a long-lost lover. If you want to learn how to eat keto in college, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time developing dinner strategies.
Dinner has always been a trouble spot for me, and for a lot of people. This is because the will power we have is just like a muscle–if we flex that muscle throughout the day by eating healthy, it fatigues by the evening. Once our will power is shot, all bets are off. Hello late night pizza binge eating.
Fortunately, if you stocked up on calories at breakfast with all those eggs and sausage, and followed it up with a tasty lunch, you are setting yourself up for success later in the evening. To put it simply, I typically would go with 3 quick strategies for a keto-friendly dinner:
- Salads (Look for a robust salad bar, more on this in a moment)
- Breakfast for dinner (let’s say you are an egg and sausage lover–this is a quick fix)
- An incredible secret microwave mug recipe (wait for it)
Salads may get a bad rap, but let’s get real: there are endless combinations of toppings, mixes, and dressings to pile on your greens. Start with a spring mix or some mesclun greens, pick up one of those 6-ounce blister pack tubs (pro tip: this can serve as your bowl–no cleanup required). For clean protein, add some grilled chicken breast, or some tuna. You can buy flavored tuna pouches that will add a lemon zest or spicy flavor to the salad, just check for any added sugar.
After you add your protein, make sure to throw some avocado and some nuts on your salad for that crunch factor. After that, we get to the fun part: the dressing. A simple extra virgin olive oil plus vinegar plus lemon juice plus Italian seasoning is a personal favorite of mine. If you don’t have the time or tools to make your own dressing, a lot of simple vinaigrette varieties will do.
Then there’s breakfast for dinner. For all you IHOP lovers, this is for you. Reference the above discussion on keto breakfast ideas for this go-to dinner option.
Back to the mug and microwave killer combination. One of my favorite recipes is keto mug lasagna. You only need 5 ingredients, and the results are delicious. If you are a pasta lover like I am, this is sure to scratch that itch.
- Put some marinara sauce in bottom of mug
- Layer some thin-sliced zucchini on top
- Spread ricotta cheese over zucchini
- Do this repeatedly until mug is nearly full
- Add another layer of zucchini, then top with shredded mozzarella cheese
- Microwave for 4-5 minutes
- When done, sprinkle some Italian seasoning on top, and add some parmesan cheese if you want even more cheesy goodness
Try this mug lasagna out, and you will love keto dinners again.
How to eat keto in college: the bottom line
In this article, we discussed strategies for maintaining a keto lifestyle throughout every phase of the day while in college. First and foremost, it all begins with a mindset shift. Change up your routine–take a new walking route to class. Avoid the fast food joints that used to tempt you. Ask your friends if they would consider going keto with you.
Getting your body prepared for ketosis is also extremely important. I spent 3 days gradually cutting out the carb-rich foods that were holding me back. First it was the breakfast cereal, then the sandwiches, and finally the indulgent dinners. No more traditional spaghetti, no more pizza.
At the end of the day, one of the meals will likely be harder for you to maintain keto on than the others. For you pastry lovers, it might be breakfast. For others, it could be that midday burger and fries that calls to you. And for many of us, myself included, it’s the nighttime pitfalls dinner tends to bring our way.
Whether you like to get creative with a mug and microwave in your dorm room, or you want to hack the campus dining hall, you have options for a college keto lifestyle.
As we’ve discussed, there are ways to navigate the unhealthy traps college life presents. If you think it’s impossible to figure out how to eat keto in college, think again.