Although the NAU meal plans offer a variety of places to eat, chances are it won’t be long until eating at Chick-fil-A or Subway every day gets old. However, instant noodles aren’t the only other option either. While hot plates may not be allowed in the dorms, there are many other ways to make healthful, delicious meals on a budget.

Living in a dorm can be a difficult change. Moving from a place with full kitchen access to an area where toasters are forbidden can be discouraging. For this reason, most freshmen opt for the meal plans available on campus. However, constantly eating fast food is one reason for the notorious freshman 15 weight gain. Clinical dietitian Amy McCoy shared her expertise on how to avoid this phenomenon.

McCoy said it is important to find time for exercise. Finding time to workout while balancing classes, work, study time and a social life can be difficult. That is why McCoy suggested doing small workouts whenever possible — 10 minutes before a morning shower or 15 minutes before bed. McCoy said that while exercise is important, eating right makes the biggest difference.

“The most important thing is that there are no bad foods,” McCoy said. “You can eat anything that you want, just not too much of it.”

Moderation is the key. McCoy explained that depriving your cravings will just lead to bigger food binges.

“Even cheesecake has a place in your diet once in a while,” McCoy said. “Just not every week and not two pieces at a time.”

McCoy recommended eating foods like pretzels, fruits, oatmeal, rice, dry cereal, chicken and fish. Anything baked or flame-broiled is better than fried. She said to stay away from foods and beverages that contain high amounts of trans fat, like most processed foods. According to Medical News Today, having a healthy diet is proven to provide more energy, better focus and improve memory, which means it can be beneficial for school and classes.

Eating healthy doesn’t mean eating bland, boring food. Culinary graduate and professional chef Jeff Englander shared some easy, dorm-friendly recipes that have lots of great flavors. Englander said he recommends getting a small slow cooker for effortless meals. Slow cookers are allowed in the dorms and can be left on all day.

“Make roast, chicken, pork or beef,” Englander said. “There are a thousand ways to change it up with different sauces or seasonings.”

Englander encourages creativity. Making sauces and experimenting with seasonings can offer a variety of different flavors each time.

“Some of the best recipes have been found by accident,” Englander said.

Englander said that garlic is the best ingredient to buy because it can be added to any dish and boost its flavor. Dried garlic seasoning is an easy alternative to cloves of garlic. Grocery stores around town have inexpensive bottles of marinade that can be stored in dorm refrigerators and used to make a savory dish.

Another useful investment is a personal blender. A small bag of frozen berries mixed with your choice of milk and sweetened with honey will make for a quick and healthy breakfast before class.

Additionally, don’t overlook the power of microwaves. Crack an egg into a coffee mug, mix it with cheese and spices, microwave for 70 seconds and have an easy breakfast in no time. Making trail mix is cheaper than buying it premade, and it makes for a great snack in between classes. Dark chocolate and nuts are excellent brain foods, while pretzels and popcorn provide energy throughout the day.

These recipes and ideas may sound great, but figuring out a budgeting plan can be daunting. Fortunately, Jodi Lynn, senior financial vice president for CUE Financial provided helpful tips for budgeting meals.

“When you’re trying to budget, be realistic with yourself,” Lynn said. “Figure out what you want versus what you need.”

She said that while food is a need, boxes of donuts and excessive amounts of chips are wants. It’s better to focus on buying meals rather than snacks because snack foods can get expensive.

Lynn explained that the most important part about budgeting is staying consistent.

“It’s important to have a plan,” Lynn said. “But don’t beat yourself up if you have an off month. Decide where you are and where you want to be, and determine the next step to reach that goal.”

Unfortunately, the freshman 15 is very real. However, there are ways to avoid it by planning out a weekly budget and sticking to it, working out when possible, avoiding fast food and processed foods and getting creative with different recipes to avoid boredom. Following these professional tips allow for a healthier and happier first year at NAU.