BYO : meals and snacks to bring on campus during COVID restrictions – Dr. Catherine Norton

Everyone is aware that there are significant restrictions to movement in / on campus. Your peers, your faculty, your teammates are nowhere to be seen (other than via a screen!). For most of us, we are remaining at home and learning / teaching remotely. But, there are some who need to be on campus for necessary practical modules, or for supportive roles to keep the show on the road. Those of us at home may not be aware that the number of food outlets / shops that are currently open at UL is significantly reduced. Microwaves are out of bounds, water fountains are off limits, vending machines have little nutritious to offer, but even these are not being replenished with the restricted access to our campus. If you are among those in our university community who needs to access the campus intermittently during the pandemic, you will need to BYO. Bring your own meals, snacks and beverages. Bring items that do not require refrigeration or reheating. Bring items that can be consumed on the go, bring items that do not require cutlery. Easy! It is not always easy to pack food that will be eaten, arrive in one piece, and doesn’t spill through a bag. Some planning and preparation can go a long way to making your time on campus more enjoyable, focussed and profitable.

Firstly, pack your mask, hand sanitiser and common sense.

Secondly, invest in the right equipment : lunch box, bento box, cooler bag, bamboo cutlery, reusable bottle / hydro flask. There are options to suit all budgets, meals and material preferences. 

Start with a decent lunch box. Ideally it should be airtight with a locking mechanism, reusable, compartmentalised if you plan to bring different meals components, and gets bonus points if it has eco credentials (bamboo / steel). There are hundreds available, so find one you like and move on to a cooler bag or hydro flask.

We can all do our bit by avoiding single-use plastic water bottles and switching to a reusable version: every person buying one reusable bottle instead of a daily single-use plastic bottle could prevent over 1,000 plastic bottles littering the ocean over three years. Priorities here should be a decent volume, light weight, with a good lock system. There are plenty to choose that are BPA free and for the fashion conscious, there are many that match functionality with style. You can even match to your leisure wear if you wish!

A decent Thermos is ideal if you plan to bring foods that need to be kept hot or cold. When facilities to heat or cool are temporarily unavailable these are invaluable, and often come with a handy spork!

Insulated lunch bags are perfect to keep your lunch all in one place in your backpack. You may need a chiller-block to keep cold things cool, and may also have some condensation if you are keeping hot things warm, so pack napkins.

There are some novelty items available, such as USB powered heated lunch boxes, mug warmers and chillers, that I have not tried, but may be worth considering for the technophiles.

Now that you have containers and utensils, what are you going to eat? Work through the necessary food groups -proteins, fruit / veg / salad, complex carbohydrates- ensuring representation from each in your packed lunch. The intention of this quick guide is not to provide personalised, prescriptive advice. If you have specific dietary restrictions / concerns please avail of the expert advice of registered dietitians. Otherwise, the population guidelines available from Ireland

 Ireland , the USA  or the UK , each of which has similar guidelines just presented differently, can all be helpful. There are also many resources available on line to help with inspiration for more exciting options than a ham sambo.  





The figure and table below might also be a useful quick guide, and don’t forget your fluids!

Over the coming weeks, the Healthy Eating Sub Group of the Healthy UL initiative will be supporting healthy eating on and off campus with meal ideas, recipes and challenges. Keep an eye on our social media platforms @Healthy_ UL for details.

Healthy UL is an campus-wide initiative with an ambition to be a leading university in promoting health and wellbeing for the entire campus community. The aim of the Healthy Eating Sub Group is to develop and enhance the food and nutrition policies and programmes in UL to ensure that the University has a comprehensive response to the Government’s Healthy Ireland framework, with respect to healthy eating. Catherine Norton leads the Healthy Eating sub-group.

Dr Catherine Norton is a performance nutritionist and registered dietitian.  Dr Norton works at the University of Limerick and teaches on the BSc Sport & Exercise Sciences and MSc Sports Performance courses as well as researching in both food for health and performance nutrition.  Contact Catherine via email on or follow Catherine on @NortonNutrition