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Eating well: advice for students from an expert

Concordia prof Sylvia Santosa shares her top tips for staying healthy this academic year
August 31, 2018
By Elisabeth Faure

Staying healthy, staying on budget and staying on top of your studies can be challenging for students.

Two common mistakes made by those living on their own are: eating meals that are not well balanced and eating too much take-out, says Sylvia Santosa, associate professor in the Department of Health, Kinesiology and Applied Physiology and a researcher at Concordia’s PERFORM Centre.

“My first apartment had a kitchen that was so tiny and non-functional, I pretty much had to eat out every day,” she recalls.

While the occasional restaurant meal is fine, Santosa says these foods are not only more expensive than home-cooked meals, they tend to be high in fat and sodium and low in fibre.

As a Tier II Canada Research Chair in clinical nutrition, she researches why some people with excess weight develop diseases while others do not.

Sylvia Santosa Sylvia Santosa

Santosa says eating unbalanced meals on a regular basis can, over time, lead to a number of negative health effects, including bad sleep, fatigue and difficulty concentrating, all of which can wreak havoc on your studies.

“I have been a student for longer than not,” says Santosa. “I can appreciate how difficult it is to make healthy eating choices.”

But when it comes to nutrition, small steps can make a big difference.

Here’s a list of her top tips and tricks to start your year off right:

It’s all about balance

“Half your meal should be made up of foods from the fruit and vegetable group, with the remaining two quarters made up of protein and carbohydrate sources.”

Drink water

“Our bodies need at least eight glasses of fluids per day. Water is calorie-free and refreshing! Drink water instead of calorie-rich fluids such as soda or juice to decrease your energy and sugar intake. One can of soda contains 10 packs of sugar!”

Eat breakfast!

“Breaking the fast after a night of sleep is important for starting your day on the right foot. If you are short on time, even grabbing a small something to go, like an apple or a banana, on your way out the door is better than nothing at all.”

Freeze, freeze, freeze!

“Cooking in larger batches and then freezing single-sized portions is especially useful during times that are busy, like exam time. Also, fresh fruits and veggies are cheaper when they are in season, so when you buy and then freeze them, you’ll have a good supply for the year without breaking the bank.”

Cook with your friends

“Getting together to cook with friends every week or two is a great social activity. If your group makes a few doubled recipes together and freezes them, you can have a good number of yummy meals!”

Take an introductory cooking course

“Some of us were lucky enough to have warm, home-cooked meals all the time without having to lift a finger. Unfortunately, that means that for some students, basic cooking skills might not be a basic instinct. Taking an introductory cooking class might help you feel more confident in the kitchen no matter how skilled you are.”

“The PERFORM Centre offers simple meal preparation classes with a focus on healthy eating throughout the year. The courses focus on areas that the “Food skills for Canadians report” has identified as ones most of us need help with: meal ideas, meal planning and meal preparation.”

Keep it within arms reach

“Make cooking easier for yourself by arranging your kitchen to keep essential cooking tools like knives, measuring cups and spoons, pots and utensils accessible.”

In addition to these nutritional tips, Santosa stresses the importance of getting enough sleep and maintaining a good level of physical activity.

Find out if you’re eligible to participate in one of Sylvia Santosa’s research studies. She is currently seeking non-smokers 25 and over. All participants will be compensated. More information can be found here, or by contacting the PERFORM Centre’s Nutrition, Obesity and Metabolism Lab at 514-848-2424, ext. 4451 or


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