How Can I Eat Healthy While Living in a College Dorm? 7 Tips

Carolina Jacobs

Feb 22, 2023
how can I eat healthy while living in a college dorm

We are a reader-supported education publication. When you buy through links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission to help us keep providing content.

Dorm life has many advantages, but access to a gourmet kitchen isn’t among them. Far too many college students fall into unhealthy eating patterns as they revel in the freedom of being away from home.

Some gain the dreaded “freshman 15,” but that’s not the only reason to make healthier choices at mealtime. The habits you form during these years often stick with you for life and can significantly affect your overall well-being and disease resistance. 

However, picking the best foods isn’t easy at university. If you’re wondering, “How can I eat healthy while living in a college dorm,” the following seven tips should help. 

1. Work Your Meal Plan

Many college students invest in a meal plan with their tuition and housing fees. Although these typically cost between $3,000 and $5,500 a year, you come out ahead if you dine there more than once daily. If you’ve been grocery shopping lately, you know inflation has heavily affected healthy foods. 

Best of all, most universities provide a wide variety of foods for each meal. Even their breakfasts typically feature a salad bar where you can always indulge in fresh fruit if the thought of lettuce doesn’t do much for you before noon. 

Experts advise you to eat the rainbow at every meal. What does this mean? Different colors correspond to various phytonutrient and antioxidant profiles in fruits and vegetables, and mixing it up helps you get all the nutrition you need. At a minimum, try to incorporate at least three colors on your plate, more if possible. 

Get adventurous! Since many universities cater to worldwide students, you’ll often find a thriving international foods section in your cafe. Indian dishes are rich in beneficial spices like turmeric and ginger, while the hot chili peppers in south-of-the-border meals contain oodles of vitamin C and compounds that help ease pain

2. Treat Your Plate Like a Clock

Eating the rainbow is one easy mnemonic to help you eat healthy while living in a college dorm. However, there’s another simple way to ensure you get the macronutrients you need. Your typical meal should consist primarily of plant-based foods, starch and protein. However, most nutritionists wouldn’t call a heaping mound of mashed potatoes garnished with beef gravy and parsley flakes complete. 

Instead, treat your plate like a clock. Fill a half-hour with the deep, leafy green and colorful stuff, raw or cooked veggies. Reserve 15 minutes for starch and the remainder for protein. 

Better yet, strive to make your starch and protein choices lean and mean. For example, a slice of white bread might qualify as starch but can cause health risks. All-purpose flour manufacturers discard the nutrient-dense bran and chaff, leaving you with a rapidly absorbing substance that spikes your blood sugar. Processing also creates a chemical byproduct that induces diabetes in laboratory animals. 

Instead, opt for more nutritious and filling starches like sweet potatoes, long grain, wild rice or whole grain bread. You can also indulge in ancient grains like quinoa and amaranth, which are safe for many people with gluten intolerance. 

3. Master Proteins and Veggies on a Budget

Your cafeteria is glorious, but it’s probably not open 24/7. There will come a time when you need a late-night snack to power through that all-nighter, and scarfing down a bag of chips isn’t the best choice for your health or your waistline. 

Protein and veggies are the most expensive things at any grocery store. However, you can find some bargains by sticking to lower-cost versions like the following:

  • Eggs: You can get multiple meals out of a single dozen, and you’ll pay the same price or less than you would for a single cut of beef. If you want to save even more, hit your local farmers market or find a local with chickens who sell their fruit as a side hustle. 
  • Nut butters: A jar of peanut butter can stretch a long way and contains protein. You can also investigate alternatives like Nutella. 
  • Tuna: Tuna fish is a fabulous source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids, crucial for healthy brain function. If mercury concerns you, opt for chunk light over albacore — it comes from a smaller fish with a lower concentration of this heavy metal. 
  • Beans: Beans are inexpensive vegan protein but learn how to soak them to avoid getting a tummy ache.

Vegetables can also cost a small fortune — but you can find bargains when you shop in season. Learn what comes ripe at various times of the year. Here’s another hack if you’re a farmers market shopper: go at days’ end. Many vendors would rather sell you tomatoes at a discount than take them home to rot before the next market day. 

4. Stock Up When You Go Home 

You probably still visit your folks — and they want to see you healthy and happy. If they are financially comfortable, take advantage of stocking up when you go home. Many will gleefully treat you to a shopping excursion if they know it’s to help you eat healthy while living in your college dorm. 

Now’s the time to don your detective hat. Are there favorite recipes you can’t wait to eat when you return home? Why not find out the ingredients and experiment to see if you can invent a suitable replacement that you can zap in your dorm room microwave? 

5. Invest in a Few Household Essentials

Eating healthier is easier when you have the right tools. Hopefully, your dorm room comes equipped with a mini fridge and a microwave. What else do you need? Consider this list:

  • A can opener: For opening tuna and soup. 
  • A hot plate: You can use a small one to keep your mug of coffee or tea warm while studying and prepare a cup of soup after class on snowy days. 
  • Knives: For cutting inexpensive cuts of meat like chicken to make microwave nuggets.
  • Covered microwave-safe dishes: You need a place to heat your meals. Look for those that do double-duty as serving plates to save space. 
  • A measuring cup: You might occasionally get creative and need to measure ingredients. 

6. And the Best Snacks

Sometimes, you don’t want to hassle with cooking but still want to eat healthy while living in a college dorm. When you hit the grocers on that shopping spree with your folks, include plenty of the following snacks:

  • Nuts: Nuts are a rich source of vegan protein and various nutrients for neurological health, like magnesium and zinc. 
  • Seeds: Seeds also contain good-for-your-brain minerals. They might also help balance your hormones if you’re female. 
  • Air-popped popcorn: This stuff has next-to-no calories and is perfect for munching during all-nighters. 
  • Low-fat cheese sticks: String cheese is a great protein and calcium source. 
  • Hummus: This chickpea-laden dip provides protein while tasting great on everything from chips to celery sticks. 
  • Whole grain crackers: The more healthy grains, the better. 

7. Mind Your Alcohol Intake 

Finally, many college students experiment with alcohol for the first time while living in a college dorm. Although some adults can drink responsibly, you should be aware of the risks. This substance causes changes in your neurotransmitters, making quitting tough once you get hooked, so remember moderation is key. 

Furthermore, alcohol contains tons of empty calories. You could gain the dreaded freshman 15 if you overindulge, even if you otherwise eat healthfully. 

How Can I Eat Healthy While Living in a College Dorm

It can be challenging to eat healthy while living in a college dorm. However, you can do it with the right approach. 

Heed the seven tips above to improve your nutrition while you study. You’ll fuel your brain with the stuff it needs to excel in class while developing positive eating habits for life. 

Written By