When students walk into dining halls at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, devils and angels begin popping up on their shoulders as choices are laid out before them. Pizza or salad. Soft serve or fruit. French fries or carrots. 

For busy, hungry college students — many of whom are making their own decisions about meals for the first time — these decisions can make the difference between walking out of their first year with lifelong healthy eating habits or carrying the dreaded “Freshman 15.” 

David Jenkins, wellness services graduate assistant, said the three best ways college students can improve their health is through exercise, quality sleep and balanced meals. 

Jenkins said he works alongside the Campus Recreation and Wellness Center’s nutrition team to promote the health and wellness of University of Nebraska-Lincoln students and staff.

Jenkins said even though college students have busy schedules, they have several options to build and maintain healthy habits. 

Staying active is a key component to staying healthy, Jenkins said, but it doesn’t have to mean going to the gym for hours every day. That exercise can come from walking up the stairs to class rather than riding the elevator or signing up for a personal trainer. Any way to get moving is a step in the right direction, according to Jenkins.

“Exercise is really important, but I think we have some preconceived notions about what exercise is, like you have to go to the gym and have very strenuous workout, and that's not the case you know, exercise takes many forms,” Jenkins said. “So, going for a brief walk or maybe even getting an exercise throughout the day and not really even realizing it’s just going up the steps.”

Exercise isn’t the only factor in health, Jenkins said, and there is one place in which students are often sorely lacking: sleep. 

“I think sleep is really important as well; getting into a proper sleep schedule, educating yourself about what sleep hygiene is, how much sleep you should get, and what type of environment to be in is important,” he said. 

Additionally, Jenkins said, meal prepping can be an efficient and easy way for students to implement a balanced diet without having to spend much or waste time. 

“Being able to have healthy, balanced meals already prepared so you don't go grab a snack or go out to eat, from a nutrition standpoint meal prep is very important,” Jenkins said.

The Recreation and Wellness Center on East Campus provides Meal Kit Mondays, where three meal kits are provided for $15. 

Jenkins said meal prep doesn’t have to be expensive and points students towards Husker Pantry locations if they are facing food insecurity as an option to gain assistance. 

According to Megan Patel, program coordinator of Husker Pantry, the organization was founded in January 2017 after data from 2015 showed that a number of UNL students were facing food insecurity, which led to the opening of the pantry’s two locations. 

Patel said that through monetary and physical donations, the organization serves around 300 students each week. 

On both the City and East Campuses, Patel said the pantry’s goal is to provide those who are in need of assistance accessing food and hygiene products with free access to the items they need. 

“We have free food, hygiene items and school supplies for students in need,” Patel said. “Any student that feels like they need a little bit of help, they can't afford all those things, they can come to the pantry and get some of those items for free. All they need to do is bring their NCards.” 


News reporter and photographer