Medical students are busy individuals, and it can be tough for them to eat healthy. Even doctors sometimes have poor diets, grabbing fast food or vending machine snacks to eat on the go. However, it's important for students to take care of themselves, and it is possible — it just takes planning and preparation.
For students with a busy schedule, taking an hour or two on the weekend or on a day off to plan and prepare upcoming meals can make staying healthy in medical school a little easier.
Ronnie Rivera, a fourth-year medical student at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and class of 2016 co-representative on the Well-Being Committee, says he finds veggie wraps, carrot sticks, apples and nuts to be good foods he can eat easily while walking across campus.
You can prepare food in advance by cutting up fruits and vegetables and storing them in plastic containers that are easy to grab on the way out. Ronnie says that it's easiest for him to prepare meals he plans to eat at home, especially breakfast.
"I could prep for lunches and dinners using storage containers, but I found this cumbersome when I had to carry around a lunch box and ice pack all day," he explains. "We don't always have access to lockers or refrigerators."
On the weekend, cook meals and freeze them (when possible) to help avoid throwing out unused fresh produce. Preparing meals in the freezer means students will have easy, healthy meals available on nights when they can eat at home.
Eat healthy food around campus
Even if they prepare some of their meals, it's likely that most students will still need to buy food around campus. Having a meal plan can make this easier. However, the keys to sticking to a healthy diet are planning ahead and making conscious choices. Ronnie says that on any given day he designs a plan for what he wants to eat and makes choices that fit within this plan.
"I do some prepping, but I've found it's easiest to decide what foods I will and will not eat for the day, and make choices on the go," he says. "For example, if I was leaning toward protein that day, I would look for a salad with meat on it for lunch. Even if I eat in the campus dining room or at a fast food restaurant, I can find options that fit the dietary choices I want."
He admits that it's not always easy. With sugary foods always available in break rooms, it's a constant battle to choose healthy foods over high-sugar and high-carb options. Ronnie finds that a basic peanut butter and jelly sandwich can sometimes alleviate his sugar cravings and help him skip the brownies.
One of his favorite snacks is available at the UCLA student store: a cup containing two boiled eggs, saltine crackers and a cheese slice. This is a great option for a snack, breakfast or a light lunch. Ronnie also recommends the veggie tray, which is easy to grab and snack on all day.
Take advantage of resources
UCLA is committed to the overall health of its students. The Well-Being Committee, part of the Medical Student Council, offers tips, workshops and tools for staying healthy in medical school. Students can sign up for weekly emails that provide recipes or sit in on lunch seminars about healthy eating.
UCLA also has a nutrition interest group for students who want to deepen their understanding of healthy lifestyle choices. Despite being busy, it is possible to make healthy choices in medical school by planning ahead.
By Patricia Chaney