Healthy Eating Basics

It can be a challenge to balance caloric intake and physical activity while getting all the necessary nutrients, especially with a busy college schedule. Every positive change you make now-no matter how small-with have a powerful impact on your future health and wellness.

Building a Balanced Plate

Use the MyPlate method to ensure you're building balanced meals and getting all of the nutrients you need.


Watch Video: My Plate

Video Accessibility Instructions:

These video instructions are located directy above a YouTube video. Hit the DOWN arrow key until you hear the words FLASH START. Once the screen reader is inside the FLASH OBJECT, hit the TAB key about 7 times until you hear PLAY BUTTON a second time. Hit the Spacebar key to play the video. You can then hit the Spacebar key again to pause the video. Feel free to hit TAB and TAB+SHIFT to listen to all the buttons in the FLASH OBJECT. Sometimes the PLAY button and the PAUSE button will be listed as an UNLABLED BUTTON.

Fruits and Vegetables

Fruits and vegetables lower a person’s risk of developing chronic diseases later in life by providing essential vitamins, minerals and fiber. They can also be the trickiest food to include in our diets. Keep reading to learn easy tips to eat more of this essential food group.

Strive for Five

 Not only do fruits and vegetables keep our bodies healthy and strong, but they add a variety of flavors and textures to our meals. 

Aim for at least five servings every day to protect yourself against heart disease, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. 1 serving is equivalent to:

  • 1 cup of vegetables
  • 2 cups of raw leafy greens
  • 1 piece of whole fruit
  • 1/2 cup of dried fruit


Aim for a Variety
Different colors of fruits and vegetables have different types of nutrients – your body needs them all! Aim for red, yellow and orange, white, blue/purple, and green varieties to keep your intake well-rounded and nutrient rich. The more vibrantly colored a fruit or vegetable is, the more nutrient-rich it is.
Eat Seasonally
Eating fruits and veggies in their proper season (when they are ripe) makes them the most flavorful and nutritious for your body. Not sure what's in-season? Check out this list for seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with storage and prep tips.
I've bought all of these fruits and what?

Want to eat more fruits and vegetables but not sure how to prepare them? Here are some great videos on everything from how to chop a variety of vegetables to using a measuring cup!

Instead of trying to squeeze in your 5 a day all at once, find simple ways to increase your fruit and vegetable intake in little amounts throughout the day:

  • Pre-chop your fruits and vegetables when you first get home from the store to make them accessible on busy days
  • Throw your favorite vegetables into eggs at breakfast time
  • Grab whole fruits (pears, bananas, oranges) for a quick snack
  • Add vegetables to your sandwiches
  • Stock up on frozen vegetables for a quick side dish with dinner

Do you eat on campus for most of your meals?  Check out our “Healthy Eating on Campus” page for NAU specific info.

Whole Grains

Whole grains and refined grains are miles away from each other when it comes to health and nutrition.  Be sure to make at least 50% of your grains whole.

Why choose whole grains?


Whole grains are more than just a carbohydrate!  In addition to energy, you’ll also receive protein, essential oils, vitamins, and minerals.  The refining process removes most of these nutrients, and leaves you with a food that will quickly spike your blood sugar.

Try to eat mostly whole grains when eating pastas, rice, bread, and tortillas to bring more nutrients into your body.  When grocery shopping, double check the ingredient list.  Make sure the first ingredient listed is “100% whole wheat flour” to ensure you’re getting a whole grain product.

Feeling adventurous? Try quinoa, amaranth, barley, or other grains! Take a look at these tips for cooking these and other whole grain products.


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Protein is essential for building muscle and tissue, promoting healing, increasing our immune system, and providing energy.  Limit processed meats (bacon, sausage) and red meats to 1-2 servings per week, but include a variety of other protein sources during the week.  Eggs, low-fat dairy, chicken, fish, and turkey are all lean, heart healthy meat sources.
Vegetarian Sources
Protein doesn't have to come from animal products alone!  Beans, nuts, seeds, and tofu can all contribute high quality protein to a person's diet.  Pair these foods with a whole grain to get maximum protein each time you eat.  Think rice and beans, quinoa with nuts added, or peanut butter spread on whole grain bread.  As an added bonus, these options are typically more affordable than animal proteins, are considered "green" because they use less water to produce, and are a heart healthy alternative because of the fiber they contribute to a person's diet.
How Much Protein Should A Person Eat?

Confused about how much protein to eat?  The average person should eat 3 oz. of lean protein, or the size of a deck of cards, with each meal.  Adding half of that amount to snacks will help a person feel more full between meals.

If you’re calculating grams of protein, the average person needs 0.8-1 g/kg of body weight daily (0.36-045 g/pound of body weight).  

 Meals and Snacks

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Eat small meals spaced throughout the day to provide a steady supply of nutrients and energy. Don’t skip meals-especially breakfast. Breakfast is associated with improved memory and higher test scores in in math and science. Skipping meals may also lead to overeating when you finally do eat. 

Try to include a source of protein and fiber with your meals and snacks to keep you fueled throughout the day. Quick breakfast and snack ideas include:

  • Fresh, whole fruit, such as apples or oranges with a small handful of nuts
  • Apple, banana, or celery with nut butter or sun butter
  • Nuts and seeds mixed with a handful of dried fruit and 1 oz. of dark chocolate
  • Baby carrots, sugar snap peas, or mini bell peppers with hummus
  • Low-fat string cheese and a serving of whole grain crackers
  • Fresh or dried edamame
  • Greek yogurt and fruit

Healthy Drinks


 water cups

The average person’s body is about 60% water. Loss of as little as 2% of your body water can make a person feel sluggish and weak. High altitude, hot temperatures, and activity increase water needs. Carry a water bottle with you and fill up at one of the free water stations around campus to keep you hydrated.

You know you're hydrated if:

  • You have very little thirst
  • Your urine is clear to pale yellow
  • You feel great!

You may be need to increase your water intake if:

  • You’re experiencing frequent headaches
  • You feel fatigued or have low energy
  • Hit quickly hit a wall during exercise
  • Your urine is dark yellow
Sugary Drinks

While soda is often a main culprit of added sugar in the American diet, juice, sports drinks, flavored milks, and energy drinks can also contribute a significant amount of sugar to a person’s diet.  Even one sugary drink daily can increase a person’s risk of developing heart disease, liver disease, Type 2 Diabetes and certain types of cancer.  Curious to see how much sugar you might be drinking?  Head over to this website to find out!

If you’re having a hard time decreasing your intake of sugary drinks, try one of these options to add some flavor to your water:

  • Unsweetened iced tea with a squeeze of lemon
  • Fruit infused water
  • Sparkling water with a splash of juice or lemonade
  • Crystal light or Mio added to water

 Grocery Shopping

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The key to healthy eating is planning! Smart shopping can save a person time and money, but also helps ensure that they make healthier choices.  Follow these tips to be grocery store savvy: 

  • Create a grocery list ahead of time-look at the ads to find items on sale, and write quantities next to each item to make sure that you buy just enough
  • Don’t shop on an empty stomach; hunger can lead to extra foods in your grocery cart
  • Shop on the outer perimeter where most of the fresh, whole foods are located
  • When you get home from the store, wash and chop all of your produce ahead of time so it will be ready to go at mealtime
Looking for more info? Check out this short video!