Healthy food choices for students on the go

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Published August 08, 2013

| Consumer Reports

Raiding the refrigerator is a cinch when you want a late-night snack at home. But when you’re living in a dorm without a full kitchen, it can be slim pickings. Fortunately, there are plenty of good, healthy choices that take little or no preparation and can be easily stored in a dorm room or compact refrigerator. Here are some breakfast foods, snacks, and frozen entrees that received high marks from the food testers at Consumer Reports.

Frozen waffles
Frozen waffles are a good breakfast choice for students with a shared refrigerator or a compact fridge that has a reliable freezer. Trader Joe’s Multigrain frozen waffles topped our tests and at $2.00 per serving, are a CR Best Buy. For a dollar more, the 365 Organic Everyday Value Homestyle from Whole Foods is also a good option. But the waffle that scored best for nutrition was the Kashi 7 Grain, though at $3.90 per serving costs even more.

Cereal
High-fiber cereals have come a long way since Consumer Reports first tested them 14 years ago and said they tasted more like straw than grain. In our cereal taste tests, one granola, Bear Naked Fruit and Nut, scored excellent for taste but its overall nutrition was just fair.  Four cereals were tasty and nutritious based on calories, fat, sodium, sugars, iron, calcium, and fiber: Kellogg’s All-Bran Original, Post Grape-Nuts The Original, Post Shredded Wheat Original Spoon Size, and Post Shredded Wheat ’n Bran Spoon Size.

Snack bars
Snack bars are another quick breakfast choice but our experts, who tried 24 snack bars in chocolate, peanut, and strawberry flavors, found that not all of them are good for you. Snack bar names and descriptions can include such healthy sounding words as cereal, granola or fiber but there are big differences in nutrition. Calories can range from 90 to 270 per serving, fat from 2 to 9 grams, and sugar from 2 to 20 grams. Our winner for best taste and nutrition was Clif Crunch Granola Chocolate Chip, which costs $3.11 per package. Market Pantry Peanut Sweet & Salty Granola Bars sold at Target for $2.10 are another great pick. See the full snack bar report for detailed nutrition information and more choices.

Greek yogurt
Thicker and creamier than traditional yogurt and high in protein, Greek yogurt is taking over the dairy aisle. In our Greek yogurt taste tests, our food experts found three that are worth a try, including two varieties of Dannon Oikos and one of Stonyfield Oikos. We also liked Fage Total 2% with strawberry, which has 140 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 16 grams sugar.

Frozen pizza
Again, if your student has access to a kitchen, frozen pizza can sate those late night food cravings.  In our pizza taste tests, our food experts tried five chicken pizzas, a less traditional type that’s becoming more popular, and found one to recommend. It’s the Freschetta Chicken Club, which has a flavorful, yeasty, Italian-style crust; béchamel-style sauce; smoky bacon; and flavorful chicken chunks; plus fresh-tasting spinach and tomatoes. We also tasted 16 cheese pizzas and pepperoni pies and found three brands that were very good overall: Home Run Inn, Red Baron and DiGiorno.

Frozen entrees
Forget those TV dinners of the past, today’s frozen entrees are more appealing in taste and appearance. In our taste tests of 18 entrées made with either chicken or shrimp we named one a CR Best Buy, the Birds Eye Voilà Chicken Florentine. Nine others scored very good overall for taste including Contessa World Cuisine Sesame Chicken, $2.50, the highest scoring Asian chicken meal, and Bertolli Chicken Florentine & Farfalle, $3.37, the highest among Italian chicken meals. Wanchi Ferry Shrimp Lo Mein, $3.58, was the best among the Asian shrimp group and Bertolli Shrimp Asparagus & Penne, $3.35, was the best of the Italian shrimp meals.  

Beef jerky
Beef Jerky will never make anyone’s list of health foods but it can be a quick protein pick-me-up and has fewer calories than meat sticks. In our beef jerky taste tests, we found Oh Boy Oberto Original beef jerky to be a tad spicy with well-blended smoke, brown sugar, garlic, and fruit flavors. Pacific Gold is sweeter than most and has a distinct black-pepper flavor. It was also the best value among the tastier choices. But keep in mind that some of these dried meat products have very high sodium levels.

—Izabela Rutkowski

Food and beverage guide

See what other foods our experts like including taste tests of fast food, ice cream, wine, and beer in our food and drink reviews.

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