Eating Healthy in College
I have now been at college a month and a half. No, not super long at all in the grand scheme of things but long enough for me to realize that healthy foods aren’t always the easier option here. During high school, although I typically ate at the cafeteria for lunch, I always knew that my family would have some healthy options in the fridge and pantry when I got home. However, in college dining halls (or at least where I go), the actual healthy options are few and far between. And, I’ll admit, there is not usually a ton of time, space, equipment, or budget to make a gourmet dish in the dorm. But, what I’ve realized is that healthy eating in college is a choice you have to pretty deliberately make and there are some easy ways to do this. No one is going to put a steaming plate of vegetables on the table to make sure you get your daily greens. You’ve got to have to choose that for yourself.
So, this being said, I’ve compiled some tips for healthy ways to navigate the dining hall and throw together some meals in your dorm. Although another post will be out soon about actual recipes that are easily made in a dorm, I hope this post gives you some advice about healthy eating in college in general.
Eating in the dining hall…
While most dining halls vary in quality, I feel like most have some common aspects. Most have a salad bar, a vegetarian station, and maybe even a stir fry station. Sure, it can sometimes be a little overwhelming to try to find something healthy, especially if you aren’t wanting a salad, but here are some tips that may make navigating the dining hall a bit easier in most colleges.
Make your plate as colorful as possible.
You have probably heard this one before but it’s so true. The more vibrant your plate is, the more nutrients your plate has. Plus, it just makes dining hall food look so much happier. I usually try to do this in the salad bar. If I decide not to get a salad, I try to seek out a few stations with various colors of food to make sure I’m including several different colors.
If you have the option, go for the dishes they cook right in front of you.
At my school, we have a stir-fry station in which you can grab a bowl full of veggies of your choice and then choose for it to be cooked with either rice or noodles and a protein. Although this option may not be touted as the healthiest thing in the dining hall, I tend to lean more towards it because I can choose what is going into it, versus alternative options at other stations that look pretty healthy but actually contain a lot of added butter and oils. Plus, you know all the ingredients of what you’re eating when you’re the one picking it out. If you have a station like this, whether it’s stir fry, burrito bowls, omlettes or sandwiches, I would suggest hitting it up over the stations where the meal is completely pre-made.
Choose the fresh foods first.
My motto is typically to choose the fresh items first. Whether it’s a salad from the salad bar, fresh veggies on my sandwich or toast, or even just a banana or apple, I try to include something fresh and not pre-made with every meal. Even if I supplement it with other pre-made items, I always feel so much better if I even have a couple of items that I know don’t include any added butter or oil. Oftentimes, I try to choose these items first and then determine the rest of the meal based on those.
Typically, a really well-rounded meal can’t be achieved by just going to one station. So, your best bet is hopping around and choosing items from different stations that are versatile and nourishing. A meal doesn’t have to include a salad to be healthy! If your school allows it, just go to a few different stations and create your own balanced meal. For example, one station may have grilled chicken, one may have roasted sweet potatoes, and another may have pasta salad, and another may have an apple. If you have time, just bounce around and see what looks good from the dining hall as a whole.
It’s all about the balance.
No one needs to eat perfectly in order to be healthy. But, the most important thing to do is discover what works best with you and base your meals around that. Yes, this is true of just eating in general, but it is more necessary in college than it as ever been. There’s no need to skip the burgers or the pizza altogether, but make sure to balance out these meals with alternative healthy options. Learning to listen to your body and finding out what a balanced meal looks like to you is a huge part of making healthy lifestyle changes.
Eating in my dorm…
Because of the meal plan that I’m on, I typically always eat breakfast in my dorm. Each week, I go to the store and get a some ingredients, or just a few things to supplement what I already have on hand. Even though whipping up some fruit in my blender was a go-to thing for breakfast in high school, I’ve found that its probably best not to blare my blender early in the morning since my walls are pretty thin. Plus, time is of the essence most mornings so I usually do something that can be thrown together a bit more easily. Aside from breakfast items, I typically have some healthy snacks in my mini fridge and food cart to munch on throughout the day. I’ve found that having some pretty healthy snacks around is extremely beneficial to eating healthily while I’m busy. Plus, stress eating will probably happen at some point, so I try to at least plan ahead for it. It’s so much easier to binge out on carrots and hummus vs. Doritos if you only have the carrots and hummus around. So, here are some examples of some food items that I typically rotate while stocking my fridge.
Dorm Grocery Ideas
berries (I usually get either strawberries or blueberries)**
bread (I typically just microwave it since toasters aren’t allowed in the dorms)
avocado (I usually only buy one so I do not let it go to waste)
spices and seasonings (I would recommend salt, pepper, Tony’s, cinnamon, etc.)
** I usually buy a small quantity of berries since they go bad pretty quickly.
frozen edamame (if you have a freezer)
Dinner and Lunch (if your mini fridge has a freezer)
frozen zucchini or sweet potato noodles
frozen rice or quinoa
frozen black bean patty
First off, let me say that I don’t think my mini fridge has ever has all these ingredients all at once. But, this just gives you an idea of a few versatile items that may be nice to have on hand to supplement your dining hall meals in whatever way fits your budget. None of these items require much time to prep, but they will keep you satisfied if you’re pressed for time and can’t run to the dining hall prior to class.
Forget about the whole “freshman 15” concept for now and think more about how good putting good things into your body will make you feel. It doesn’t even have to cost anything more than your meal plan to make good food choices. I hope that this post gave you a little guidance on some ways that I have been trying to continue eat healthily while in college! Although it may be harder to eat cleanly now than it has every been, the energy we’re able to gain from nutritious food makes it sooo worth it. For my college freshman folks out there, we’re in it together!