College and University Blog

Campus Nutrition 101: Making Healthier Food Choices in the University Dining Hall

College students are famous for their astoundingly unhealthy diets. Between midnight munchies, pizza parties, fast food feasts, and all-you-can-eat ramen noodle buffets, it’s no surprise that scientists at Washington University in St. Louis recently found that over 70 percent of all college students pack on a few extra pounds before the end of their sophomore year.

With the tight budget and limited food options that most college students face, you might think that you have no choice but to adopt the typically unhealthy campus diet. However, while it’s true that your dining choices will be restricted, you can still avoid the Freshman 15 if you choose your foods wisely.

If you make full use of the resources at your disposal and approach the on-campus food challenge with some discipline and creativity, you should be able to just fine. Here are some tips to help you navigate your on-campus food choices and escape with your health – and your waistline – intact.

Portion size is important. Some top nutritionists say that what you choose in the dining hall doesn’t matter as much as how much of it you eat. For some college students, mealtimes are like an endurance event. It’s not uncommon to see students leave the line with their plates stacked ten or twelve inches high with food. Overeating like this is a recipe for dietary disaster – it’s just not possible for your body to process that many calories in one sitting without converting some of the excess to fat. When it comes to healthier eating, f you can keep your portion sizes in check, you’ve already won half the battle.

Mix it up. When you’re trying to make healthier food choices, variety is the key to success. If you force yourself to stick to the same limited repertoire of “healthy” foods day in and day out, you’re going to end up boring yourself to tears. Rather than being a dietary saint 24/7, try to eat a variety of different foods and snacks. That way, you’ll be less likely to feel deprived – and less likely to break down and order Chinese takeout a few hours after leaving the dining hall.

Look for nutrient-dense options. When it comes to watching your waistline, some of the worst culprits are foods, drinks, and snacks with tons of empty calories. Regular sodas, starchy snack foods, and sweet treats are all examples of choices that offer very little nutrients in exchange for their whopping calorie counts. Limit these types of foods and drinks, and instead pack your plate with fruits and vegetables that offer lots of vitamins and minerals for very few calories.

Study somewhere else. Try to avoid the mistake of using the campus dining hall as your own personal study spot. When you get tired or bored while studying, you might be tempted to snack or go back for seconds that you don’t really need. Do your waistline a favor and find another place to hit the books.

Aim for balance, not perfection. You don’t have to be perfect to stay healthy in college. Every now and then, you’re probably going to snack out on some not-so-healthy foods — and maybe even go back for seconds and thirds. When you do pig out, try to balance out your overall food intake by being strict with your food choices for the next few meals. Remember, long-term moderation is the key.

Are you afraid of packing on the infamous Freshman 15? Do you think you’ll be able to make healthy food choices on campus? Tell us all about it in the comments.