Okay, okay, the title may be a little bit harsh – dining hall food on most campuses really isn’t that bad! You just have to know what to look for! It can be all too tempting to head straight for the pizza and cheese fries, and if you’re okay with gaining the freshman fifteen (or in some cases the freshman thirty) then by all means ignore the rest of this post!
If you’re a little more health conscious like me, you’ll probably struggle with trying to determine what things are truly healthy. I have never counted calories, I never will count calories, and I wouldn’t know how to if I tried. But that doesn’t mean I don’t pay attention to whats going into my body! This can be seriously challenging, or super easy – it all depends on how much information your school puts out about what its serving. From what I’ve heard, almost every school has nutrition and calorie information about its food posted somewhere online (although some are expertly designed to be difficult to find…)
That is your first step. Find wherever your school has listed all of the calorie and “nutritional” facts about its dining hall food online, and pay attention! I spent my entire first semester eating a spinach wrap, feeling really proud of myself and healthy until I found out its over 600 calories. Excuse me?? Its a tortilla, some spinach, a little chicken and veggies, and some dressing.
There’s just no way. But there is. Which leads me to step two.
Don’t trust the costume food. Foods that masquerade as being healthy, and in any normal situation (like your parents kitchen) would be healthy, but are secretly loaded with hidden fats and are probably not the freshest. For example, certain salad bars on my campus have been known to put out the lettuce and other ingredients for multiple days, barely refrigerating it. Hardly fresh and hardly healthy. The other most common offender of this? Pasta. I love carbs, don’t get me wrong, but the pastas and sauces served at your school are probably absolutely loaded with calories that you wouldn’t normally expect, drowned in butter and cooked in super unhealthy oils and grease.
Step Three? Focus on foods you know you can trust. Yogurts, granolas, whole grains, and (if they are fresh) fruits and vegetables. Avoid the obvious things like pizza and anything fried – you may as well go eat fast food somewhere – they might even use less grease at McDonald’s. (Even though the sweet potato fries at my school are totally my guilty pleasure).
Lastly, don’t overeat. You choose your portions now, and while it may seem like a
horrible fantastic idea to go for thirds of that “fat free” soft serve ice cream, don’t. Especially with dining halls that are buffet style all-you-can-eat, my best piece of advice is to fill your plate with less than you think you will need. Finish that first, and if after 5-10 minutes you’re still hungry, by all means go back for more! Its all about portion control.
Other than that, my only advice is this:
Avoid late-night snacking and stress-eating. Food is available pretty much 24 hours a day now, but that doesn’t mean you need to eat during every minute of that.
Now that I am living off campus, I actually don’t have to try and navigate the murky waters of dining hall food anymore, so pretty soon I am hoping to come up with a great list of groceries and easy college recipes for staying healthy, although I think I need to master it for myself first! If anyone has any tips or links, feel free to comment!