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Editor's note: This is the first installment in an occasional series featuring nutritious recipes demonstrated by faculty from the School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, an academic unit of ASU’s College of Health Solutions.
The dreaded “freshman 15” weight gain is based on the notion that students adjusting to a sudden lifestyle change don’t always make the best food choices. But eating healthy can be a challenge throughout college, especially if you’re living in a dorm or on limited means; stoves, expensive ingredients and the time it takes to make nutritious meals are luxuries the average college student doesn’t always have.
Jessica Lehmann knows that from personal experience. During her time at Wesleyan University, she resorted to time-honored — and nutritionally questionable — dorm room staples like pizza, bagels and noodles.
“I don’t think I ate a vegetable for a few years,” she recalled, not at all wistfully.
Now, as a lecturer at ASU’s School of Nutrition and Health Promotion, Lehmann wants students to know that they don’t have to spend a lot of money to have a balanced diet.
“Simple foods you can make at home are the best,” she said. “And you don’t have to be a gourmet chef.”
To put proof in the pudding, Lehmann demonstrated a simple recipe for ASU Now that uses everyday, affordable ingredients and requires virtually no culinary skills.
“Overnight oats is a good make-ahead breakfast or snack to get students off to a good start,” Lehmann said. “It’s rich in fiber, budget-friendly and doesn’t use heat.”
Students can use their dorm fridge to make it, and they can throw in whatever fruit they bring back from the dining hall for added nutritional value.
To make overnight oats, combine equal parts oats, yogurt and milk in a container (yogurt is optional but Lehmann said it gets students into a good habit of incorporating probiotics into their diet; if you decide not to use yogurt, double the amount of milk so the oats have enough liquid to absorb). Then place the container in the fridge — you guessed it — overnight.
When you take it out in the morning, the oats will have softened in the liquid. Then comes the fun part: Add whatever natural flavors, sweeteners, fruits or seeds you like. Lehmann suggests trying nut butter, vanilla, cinnamon, honey or locally produced date syrup as flavorings and sweeteners.
If you’re using dried fruits or chia seeds, it’s best to add them before putting the mixture in the refrigerator so they can get soft and chewy with the oats. If you’re using fresh fruits or other seeds and nuts, add them right before eating.
All of these things are just suggestions, though.
“You can customize it according to your taste buds and you don’t have to use all the ingredients,” Lehmann said. “That’s the beauty of it.”
Overnight oats will keep well in a refrigerator for two to three days.
As a teacher of subjects like nutrition communication, healthy cuisine and human nutrition, Lehmann may be at the front of the classroom now but those late nights studying and early morning exams are still all too fresh in her memory.
“Students don’t think about what’s healthy, they think about being full or getting caffeine,” she said. “And I sympathize with my students. I get it. (Lehmann was late to her first college exam, which started at 8am, because she overslept.) But it’s better to reach for healthy food when you’re up late studying.”
Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup plain yogurt (optional; if leaving out, make sure to double the amount of milk to provide enough liquid for the oats to soak in)
½ cup milk of your choice
Possible additions (all optional; be creative!):
1-2 tablespoon nut or seed butter (peanut, almond, sunflower, etc.)
½ cup sliced fruit (could be fresh, frozen or dried; try raisins, bananas, apples, berries, etc.)
½ to 1 teaspoon sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave, brown sugar, date syrup, etc.)
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1-2 tablespoons nuts or seeds (sliced almonds, raw cashews, etc.)
Sprinkle of cinnamon
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
Combine the oats, yogurt and milk in a bowl or container. Add nut butter, vanilla and cinnamon if you’re using them. If you’re using chia seeds or dried fruit, it’s best to add them now so they can soak up the liquid and become soft and chewy along with the oats. You could add frozen fruit now too. If you’re using bananas, you could add them now or right before you eat the oats. Avoid adding any other kinds of fresh fruit, nuts or seeds until right before you want to eat them. Mix well and allow to chill in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, the oats will have softened in the liquid. Add the fresh fruit, nuts or seeds. Add the sweetener. Stir the overnight oats well so that you get oats and lots of delicious flavor and texture in every bite.