Eating well isn’t easy when your main source of grub is a campus dining hall. Here are some tips on choosing nutritious foods in your cafeteria.
There are many reasons why college students gain the dreaded Freshman Fifteen, and one of those reasons is the experience of eating in a college dining hall. The food may not be great, but it’s plentiful, and it’s not necessary very nutritious!
To help you eat as healthfully as possible in your cafeteria, here’s a guide to foods you should choose and foods you should eat only in moderation.
Healthy College Dining Hall Choices:
- Fresh fruit: Cafeterias are full of processed foods, and a piece of fresh fruit is a close to nature as you’re going to find. Try to eat a piece of fruit every day. It’s also a good idea to incorporate fresh fruit into other dining hall options— like by cutting a banana into a bowl of cereal, or by eating fresh strawberries with yogurt.
- The salad bar: Load up on healthy, fresh veggies as often as you can. Proceed with caution, however. Eat fatty salad toppings like cheese and croutons in moderation, and avoid full-fat salad dressing (see below).
- Whole grains: Whenever possible, eat whole grain bread, cereal, pasta, and tortillas. These are immensely more nutritious than products made with processed white flour. However, you may have to ask to find out if products are actually whole grain. Lots of brown breads and such are made with processed wheat flour, which is not nearly as nutritious.
- Water: Water provides an abundance of health benefits and may help fill you up. Get into the habit of drinking at least a small glass of water with every meal.
- Healthy hot or cold cereal: No, don’t eat Corn Pops every day, but eat your fill of Cheerios, shredded wheat, oatmeal, and anything else that’s relatively healthy. Even if there’s some sugar in your selection, this is a much healthier breakfast habit than bacon, pancakes, and other fatty choices.
- Ketchup, mustard, and other low-fat condiments: No, ketchup isn’t the best food available—it’s full of high fructose corn syrup— but a tablespoon of ketchup is a much healthier alternative than a tablespoon of fatty mayonnaise. Other good condiment choices include salsa and vinegar.
- Low-fat or fat-free frozen yogurt: Of course, this is a food to eat in moderation. However, it’s a much healthier alternative to ice cream or other fatty desserts, so if your cafeteria offers a frozen yogurt machine, enjoy it.
Not-So-Healthy Dining Hall Choices:
- Juice: Juice is not nearly as healthy as fruit— especially “juice cocktails,” which are loaded with high-fructose corn syrup. But even 100% juice lacks the fiber of a piece of fruit and has lots more calories. Go ahead and drink juice in moderation, like a glass with breakfast, but don’t substitute juice for more healthy fruit choices. Orange and grapefruit juices are better choices than apple because they are a good source of Vitamin C.
- Soda: Having a soda machine in the cafeteria is a little like eating at McDonald’s every day, and it can be tempting to load up on soda at lunch and dinner. Obviously, this is a quick way to add empty calories. Don’t make the mistake of loading up on diet soda either, as this is filled with chemicals and can actually make your body crave sugar.
- Full-fat salad dressing: Most salad dressings are almost 100% fat, and can up the fat content of a healthy salad many times over. Always choice low-fat salad dressings, and use sparingly. If oil and vinegar are available, these are better choices— light on the oil, heavier on the vinegar.
- Fatty breakfasts: For many students, the eggs and pancakes and bacon and other traditional breakfast favorites are quite a temptation. However, these should be enjoyed in moderation, or perhaps eaten as a treat after a grueling early morning exam. If the cafeteria offers dishes made with egg substitutes or egg whites, choose these, as they are much lower in fat.
- French fries and other fried foods: These are a quick way to load up on calories. If you’re going to eat fries, try eating a very small serving.
- Mayonnaise, butter, and other fatty condiments: On a sandwich, try using ketchup and mustard instead of mayo. If low-fat mayo is available, go for that, in moderation. Butter, of course, is something to keep to a minimum.