Muslim college students need to be aware of all available resources that will assist them with a successful school year. Tuition, housing, transportation, academic supplies, and financial resources figure most prominently, but also remember student physical well-being. Students and their families need to have a plan for good nutrition, including healthy and halal food access and strategies to maintain good health.
In 2017, the National Institute of Health reported on the association of dietary input and academic performance for college students. The findings were clear that students who make good nutritional choices will have better academic outcomes.
U.S. dietary guidelines describe a healthy diet as one that:
- Emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat milk and milk products
- Includes a variety of protein foods such as seafood, lean meats and poultry, eggs, legumes (beans and peas), soy products, nuts, and seeds
- Is low in saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugar
- Stays within your daily calorie needs
In addition to consuming healthy foods, Muslim students may find it challenging to find Halal meats on campus, but it is not impossible. The academic institution itself will list whether there are Halal food options available. Many colleges offer a food access system for restaurants off campus where food is discounted or perhaps recommended for student use. These off campus restaurants will also typically list whether they are Halal or have Halal offerings.
If neither of these is available, Muslim students can use Halal food apps to find nearby halal food options. Some cities and college MSA have apps or recommendations for area-specific Halal food apps. Nationwide, some recommended apps available from Google Play or Apple include:
- Halal Dining Club
- Crave Halal
- Scan Halal
If a college does not have Halal food options available, students can be proactive for the future and approach the administration about including Halal options for their students. This is especially recommended for colleges with a high Muslim student population. Recommended agencies to assist with lobbying for halal food options include:
- Islamic Foods and Nutrition Council of America IFANCA
- MSA guide: “How to Achieve Halal Food on Campus”
In addition to eating Halal and healthy foods, college students must be prepared for their overall physical health. Young people may feel they are invulnerable. However, college students can be impacted not only by the hazards of Covid-19, which still has the world in its grip, but also flu, meningitis, antibiotic-resistant staph infections, sprains, sports injuries, and even mental health concerns like anxiety or depression. Treating any of these health issues can be quite costly without insurance.
If the college offers a student or campus health plan, it can be an easy and affordable way to get basic insurance coverage. College student health plans offered by the college typically count as qualifying health coverage which means under U.S. health care law, a student would not have to pay a penalty for not having insurance.
Students under the age of 26 have the option to stay on their parent’s health care plans. If a student chooses this option, they can either enroll in the insurance that their parents are covered with through their employment or whatever plan their parents are covered through the Health Insurance Marketplace.
Students also have the option to purchase their own coverage through the Health Insurance Marketplace. The Health Insurance Marketplace, also known as Health Insurance Exchange, is operated by the federal government and is simply a service that helps people shop for and enroll in health insurance. Some states run their own Marketplaces.
In order to find out what type of plans they are eligible for, students can visit the website HealthCare.gov. This portal will allow the user to determine if they are able to enroll in a health care program, change their existing plan, or qualify for Medicaid or the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
Students and their families do not need to skip health insurance coverage due to income concerns. Low-income families or immigrants who are “qualified non-citizens” are generally eligible for coverage through Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program. Medicaid is health coverage mandated by the federal government and administered by the states. It provides insurance for low income people, elderly adults, legal immigrants, and people with disabilities. Although states differ on CHIP coverage, typically the coverage is for families whose income is more than Medicaid allowances, but below about $50,000 for a family of four with children 19 years and younger.
Whether a student chooses the student or campus health plan offered by the college, their parents insurance or their own health insurance policy, obtaining some kind of health coverage is highly recommended.