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How To Provide Hearty Meals For Visiting College Kids Without Sabotaging Your Healthy Eating Plan


A friend of mine contacted me and said, “Could you do me a favor? Will you write a blog post on how to combine the eating styles of college kids with those of the parents so that everyone is happy when they are home?” This can be a dilemma. Parents may find that once their kids leave the nest, their grocery shopping and meal content changes significantly. As we get older, we tend to dial down our food quantities, fats and complex carbs to match the changes our metabolisms are making. But we all want to please our adult kids and make sure there are satisfying meals that meet their calorie needs and appeal to their taste buds when they are home for holidays or summer vacations.

There really isn’t an easy answer to this question. But here are my opinions and experiences. First, I keep bananas, eggs, a rotisserie chicken, a bowl of fruit, deli meat, sandwich condiments, whole grain bread and variety of smoothie ingredients in the fridge at all times since these young metabolisms often require five hearty meals a day.

When it comes to meals, we have to keep in mind that just because our children are actually young adults now, it doesn’t mean that we stop influencing them. If you are used to including veggies, fruits and salads into your meals, then keep doing it! The more they are exposed to healthy foods, the more they will actually eat them and often be reminded how good they taste. Having been in college, they have probably forgotten!

I have found that preparing large batches of hearty, but healthy meals is the way to go when you have extra bodies in your home. The leftovers are helpful and you won't panic if they unexpectely bring their friends home! Make a big pot of turkey chili, soup with a light broth or vegetable base, or a pasta dish that includes lean protein, veggies and topped lightly with seasoned olive oil or a red sauce. My motto is a little fat is ok, protein is a must, and incorporating at least one veggie is non-negotiable!

Include a simple salad, a bowl of fruit and you all will all be happy. The kids might load their plate with mounds of pasta and a taste of salad, while you may fill your plate with a heaping salad and a little pasta. The trick is for you to have the willpower to keep your own portions under control. Mindful eating is key!

On the other hand, if you feel like your child also needs portion control because they put on the freshman 15, your eating example will be a good thing and don't hesitate to emphasize the importance of fruits and vegetables (immunity boosters), especially with the sleep deprivation college life can bring!

There are many hearty, healthful, simple recipes that appeal to the younger appetites. It just takes a little recipe research and planning. Most adult kids are willing to help if you ask. They will get great satisfaction out of contributing, and will carry some of the things they learn back to school with them. You might even collaborate over a grocery list and send them out to buy the food. These young adults may finally appreciate all that goes into a home cooked meal especially after they circle the store multiple times trying to find one spice! finally, make sure the main meal is something you enjoy eating and meets your health expectations, because if there are leftovers they will likely be yours too!

I had a hambone left over from the holiday dinner and decided to make split pea and ham soup. You might think even your grown kids would roll their eyes at something green and soupy. However, you may be pleasantly surprised. As the soup simmered for hours, their curiosity and appetites grew. The gallon of soup was gone within two hours after it was complete! The 19-23 year olds couldn’t get enough. Keep exposing them to new things because their taste buds continue to change. They may hate seafood when they are 12, but love it when they are 20!

If they turn their noses up at the split pea soup or whatever else you experiment with, don't take it personally because it's hard to please everyone. Just make a deal that they try it. If you make an attempt to develop open minded eaters, you will enhance their lives in the long run. If they don't like what you serve, they can go make a smoothie or a sandwich! Keep in mind that they are adults. They are able to cook their own meals and if they are not, it's time for them to learn.

Family meals are important, but know your limits and if you can't pull it together on some evenings, let them know and they can plan accordingly. Likewise, Have your kids let you know if they are going to be home for dinner. If they can't do that, then don't worry about their meal! Juggling the meal-time-family-dynamics can be a challenge, but open communication and established boundaries will alleviate some tension.

I have included the delicous Split Pea Soup recipe below. Check out my Facebook Page, Swan fitness and Health Coaching for some great family recipes. And for simple, healthy, recipes, and nutrition and mindful eating education for college kids, go to College Basic Training: strengthen your mind and body to leap any college hurdle. It’s a fun read and addresses many other important topics your kids might not feel comfortable talking about.

Happy New Year and bon appetit!

Split Pea and Ham Soup


2.1/4 cups (one bag) dried split peas

2 quarts water

1.5 pounds hambone with some meat left on it.

2 onions, chopped

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 pinch dried marjoram

1 bay leaf (optional)

2 cloves garlic (optional)

3 stalks celery chopped

3 carrots chopped

1 potato diced

Simmer peas 2 minutes in large stockpot, turn off heat and soak one hour.

Add hambone, onion, salt, pepper, marjoram, bay leaf and garlic.

Cover, bring to boil and simmer for 1.5 hours, stirring occasionally.

Remove bone, cut off meat, dice and return meat to soup.

Add celery, carrots and potatoes.

Cook slowly uncovered 30-40 minutes.

Remove Bay leaf if you used one.

By Susan Jensen

Personal Trainer and Health Coach

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