How to Eat Healthy in College Dining Halls

Classrooms Team

Jan 5, 2021

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A college dining hall can seem overwhelming when you first enter. There’s nearly every type of food you can imagine — from pizza and pasta to chocolate chip cookies. These options are a jackpot for college students who don’t have experience cooking for themselves. Unfortunately, it’s easy to get out of control.

Fortunately, you can learn how to eat healthy in college dining halls. Take a look at seven tips.

1. Keep Portions Manageable

In theory, you can eat as much as you want in the dining hall. That’s both a blessing and a curse as a college student. If you pile your plate with various options for each meal, you’re not doing what’s best for your health. The phrase “too much of a good thing” rings true in this case.

Try to start small when you first grab your plate. An example would be a grilled chicken breast with rice and vegetables. Sit down to eat your food. If you still feel hungry, you can go back for seconds. This effort will keep you from overeating — and you can reduce food waste, as well.

2. Pick Water Over Soda or Juice

The dining hall usually has endless drink choices — and they’re generally not healthy. Beverages like soda and juice contain various types of sugars that negatively impact your nutrition. They’re also not as hydrating as other drink selections.

Replace sodas and juices with water. If you usually drink coffee with creamer, you should try plain black tea instead. You’ll get the same caffeine without any sugar or calories.

You beverage choices matter as much as your food picks when learning how to eat healthy in college dining halls.

3. Don’t Miss the Salad Bar

The salad bar should be your first stop. Eating a side salad with your chosen protein and grains is an easy way to ensure you’re getting your nutrients. If you get into the habit of going there first, you’ll be incorporating better practices into your routine.

Be sure to build a healthy salad when you load up your plate. It may surprise you to know that some salad bar items aren’t as nutritious as they seem.

4. Take Fruit to Go

Does your school’s dining hall offer individual fruits? If so, you should grab one or two of those items before you leave. You’re already paying for them with your meal plan. Therefore, you shouldn’t skip what could be a healthy snack later.

Items like bananas, oranges, and apples will stay fresh for a few days in your dorm room. You can then take them with you to class when you need something small to eat. They’re also great for dorm recipes like muffins made in a mug.

5. Skip Sauces and Dressings

Do you usually add sauce or dressing to your meals? That’s not always the best decision. These products contain high amounts of sodium, fat, and calories. Drenching your food with condiments can turn an otherwise nutritious plate into something unhealthy.

You don’t have to eliminate sauce and dressing completely. Try putting these additions on the side or ask for less of them when you order food. Adding vegetables and fruits to your plate can substitute the extra flavor you get from condiments.

6. Choose Dessert as a Treat

How often do you add a sweet treat to your meal? It’s tempting to grab a cookie or brownie on your way out of the dining hall. That habit can be hard to break when you have a sweet tooth, but you should try to cut down on the amount of dessert you eat.

Save your dessert for a day like Saturday as a celebratory treat for getting through the week. If you still want to get your fix, you should choose healthier options like frozen yogurt.

7. Take Advantage of Breakfast

It’s not often that college students want to wake up early. However, you’re missing a chance to fuel your body for the day if you miss breakfast at the dining hall. You’ll even be able to reduce brain fog when you eat a balanced meal at the start of the day.

If you have enough meal swipes, it’s smart to head to the dining hall after you wake up. Grab a balanced breakfast like eggs, toast, and fruit to enjoy before classes. You can always get your food to go when you’re in a rush. This decision will help you start the day on the right foot.

Use These Tricks to Make Dining Hall Meals More Nutritious

Knowing how to eat healthy in college dining halls can ensure you fuel your body to keep up with everything school demands. These ideas will help you make nutritious choices for each meal.

Looking for help with healthy eating? Check out these picks from our reading list:

The 5-Ingredient College Cookbook (Amazon) by Pamela Ellgen

The Greatest College Health Guide You Never Knew You Needed (Amazon) by Jill and Dave Henry

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