Among the many college stereotypes, a diet of pizza, potato chips, and ramen always seem to be present. Around 75% of St. Kate’s students around campus said that they ate better at home than they did while at school. Since Spring Break just passed St. Kate’s, many students had an opportunity to go home and visit family, myself included, so I took the opportunity to see what a mother’s advice is on eating healthy while at school.

Gena Sciortino, my mom, is a fan of healthy eating and has been making sure my brother and I ate well since birth. During weekend Skype sessions, she and my dad check in to make sure I’m not surviving off of fast food. Her main concern about the average college student diet is “way too much sodium and processed stuff…You can pick up a Greek yogurt pretty easily if you have it in your mini fridge.”

Gena Sciortino in the Sciortino living room in Fox River Grove, Illinois.

Personally, her “favorite thing that anybody could do is…put whole almonds with four, five dried apricots, and eat that for breakfast.” Sciortino mentions this is surprisingly filling and can hold her over throughout the day. Snack-wise, she says that fruit and nuts are always a good option. “I like cottage cheese and having nuts is huge because there’s a lot of fiber in it and most nuts have protein.”

When asked if she knew any easy recipes that could be doable in a dorm room, she said, “A tablespoon of pesto mixed in and then half a cup of cottage cheese. Mix it together.” And for those who aren’t a fan of cottage cheese, she recommends a caprese-style salad, with baby spinach, cherry tomatoes, fresh basil, and either feta cheese or fresh mozzarella. “If you have cherry tomatoes, you don’t have to worry about cutting them and you can just throw them in stuff,” she says. She also mentions the pre-bagged salad sold at grocery stores as a good way to eat well in a dorm.

For those who don’t like salad, she suggests quinoa. “You can add anything to it and it doesn’t really taste like anything but it’s very high in protein,” she says. “What I think would work really well for somebody living in a dorm is the overnight oatmeal stuff.”

Sciortino family kitchen.


Sciortino attended the University of Minnesota for college and lived off-campus. “I know I would have an apple a lot of times,” she says. “I didn’t really eat while I was on campus…I would eat [breakfast] before I left. But it would be cereal. I was like, cereal for breakfast all the time for 30 years.” She considers living on campus a “totally different thing” and recommends carrying around a piece of fruit or carrot sticks. “Concentrating on fiber is good because that’s going to sustain you more than a Snickers bar will, even though it does have peanuts.”

When I went on a tangent about how I couldn’t find the peanut butter Snickers I loved anywhere, she came up with a suggestion for me. “You could get some sort of nut butter, peanut butter or almond butter, and put chocolate chips in it or something and make your own little chocolatey peanut butter thing…that could be something you could put in a little baggie and take with you somewhere and just pop it in when you were hungry.”

She began discussing finding recipes online—her favorite website for that is Food52—and said, “I don’t have a lot of interest in recipes that have, you know, more than five ingredients in them,” saying these are less time consuming. “Even when I was in elementary school, I would take a spoonful of peanut butter and stick a dozen raisins in the peanut butter and I would eat that for the snack.”

As a staple, Sciortino highly recommends peanut butter. “If [students] are tied to the campus meal program [for financial reasons], save up and get a jar of peanut butter or almond butter or something that will be good for a while…Or even graham crackers are something that’s easy to just grab and eat and it’s not too terrible…Doritos and potato chips…the ingredients in those is what makes you keep eating them and you’re not getting anything at all of any nutritive value. So don’t fill up on that kind of crap because it’s not going to fill you up and it’s not going to last long.”

Finally, I asked her about a problem that’s pretty universal among college students: a late-night craving while pulling an all-nighter. It’s tempting to order pizza when most deliver into the early morning, but Sciortino recommends otherwise. “That’s going to make you more tired. No, you shouldn’t order the pizza. Have an apple or an orange or a banana.” Another suggestion she makes would be popcorn if fruit isn’t sparking your interest.