How to Eat Healthily in a Caf and Not Die

November 2, 2010

Living on campus sure has it’s perks. It’s hella convenient to get to classes because I’m smack dab in the middle of everything, I love my dorm, and I love feeling like I’m involved on campus. But it also sucks majorly. Maybe it’s the lack of parking for residents on campus, or perhaps it’s the overcrowded dorms and the fact that I now even wear shower shoes when I’m at home. You know, I don’t think those things are the worst. Living on campus would be just perfect if it wasn’t for one thing…

a required meal plan. Meals look like this:

We all know what that means. Burgers, fries, pizza, white pasta, and a salad bar with greens that have been out for far too long. Any vegetable in sight has been bastardized in one way or another: it’s creamed, mashed up with cheese or bacon or, to top it all off, has been deep fried. We don’t get much say in what’s available that day – what they’ve prepared is what you get.

So what’s a healthy college kid to do when they’re not craving fries and ice cream all day long? Here are my tips for healthy dining in an unhealthy dining facility.

1) Look for whole grains. Got a pasta bar? Then there should be whole wheat pasta somewhere. If not, request it! In fact, go on a whole wheat requesting spree. Ask for whole wheat bread and bagels for toast, whole wheat pasta, and brown rice.

2) If you’re going to have a salad, choose spinach over lettuce. Darker greens = more nutrients. Plus, they taste better.

3) If you go to the dining hall for breakfast and choose the make-your-own waffles or pancakes, bring your own maple syrup. I’m talkin’ 100% pure here, folks. Here’s a secret: the syrup the dining minions use is just sugar with flavorings, and is reused. How gross is that?!

4) See if there is a gluten-free section. In my dining hall, there is and generally I’ve found that gluten free cereals on offer are also vegan, whole grain, free of refined sugars, and are deeeeelish. That’s better than Lucky Charms.

5) Avoid going to the dessert or pizza bar every day. Sure, it’s great to enjoy these things if you want to, but just remember that moderation is key.

6) Get creative! Make a salad and then top it with vegetables from the hot bar, or get a whole wheat bagel and top it with veggies to make a sandwich. It might sound gross or weird, but the most delicious creations can be made if you think outside the box.

7) This is my most important tip: talk to the dining hall staff! Most of the time, they love to hear your feedback. They won’t know something is wrong unless you tell them. Don’t be afraid to say so. See if you can talk to the head of the staff, he or she is usually there during the day. Tell them you want more options, healthier fare, fresher fruit, etc. They will listen.

8 ) Drinking soda with your meal? Only fill your cup 3/4 full and top it up with water. The same goes for sugary drinks like punch or juice.

9) Whatever you decide to eat, put it on top of a bed of spinach or leafy greens. Yay for extra nutrients!

10) Don’t eat the meatloaf. Just don’t.

11) Keep healthy snackage in your room! Some days, you just don’t feel like going to the caf for dinner and I don’t blame you. Have fruits and vegetables (think bananas for snacks and potatoes for baking) as well as cereal, oatmeal, boxes of pasta, and frozen/canned vegetables.

Did/do you live and dine on campus? What are your tips for healthy eating when you’re not the one preparing the food?



6 Responses to “How to Eat Healthily in a Caf and Not Die”

  1. Cynthia Says:

    I definitely lived in the college cafeteria when I went to school . . . well that, and a lot of late dinners eaten out. No wonder I gained weight in college. I would say that it is also helpful to keep a lot of healthy snacks handy in your dorm room so that you aren’t tempted by the more fattening items.

  2. Faith Says:

    I definitely miss my dorm, but not my dining hall! Our food was jack nasty :/ I learned that a few condiments like salsa or honey mustard went a long way in otherwise bland and undercooked veggies and that – like you said – stocking your dorm is essential! We did have a great salad bar, but since I got so bored of it so quickly, I had to come up with ways to re-work the standard veggies…I ended up making lots of bean salads that I’d eat with tortilla chips or my own bagel sandwiches

  3. I love reading your blog because it brings me back to college (I only graduated in 2008, but it feels like much longer ago sometimes).

    I WISH I had used more of these tips while I was eating in the dining hall my first two years of college– I might not have ended up gaining so much weight. I did love that we had a salad bar, but eventually eating a salad all of the time wasn’t cutting it for me, and you are right– it didn’t always look super appetizing. I think the key is being an informed and inquisitive eater; like you said, asking questions and speaking with the manager. It is just like in stores, they don’t stock what people aren’t buying.

  4. Monique Says:

    haha, I’m always amazed at how similar colleges are. That looks EXACTLY like the dining hall I had to eat at in Santa Barbara 🙂

  5. Aly Says:

    Yuppp. I actually had a meeting with the head chefs of the dining halls at my college about vegan food. 🙂 They were really friendly and really wanted to help! I swear the college doesn’t understand the definition of vegan. Everyone always is shocked when I’m eating something and they’re like “THAT’S VEGAN?!” I swear everyone just thinks that vegan food is nuts and leaves… Hahaha. But, yeah. Our dining hall actually has a killer salad bar and great options as far as just having plain baked potatoes and steamed veggies everyday! That’s sooo nice! But, yikes! I just hate having a required meal plan, right? Yikesss.
    Yay for healthy snack nomage though! My room has plenty of whole grains, nuts, rice, pasta, almond milk, greens, and veggies. As well as lara bars and Endangered Species chocolate (duhhh, that’s essential!)

  6. runyogarepeat Says:

    I eat on-campus with a meal plan like half the time (the other half cooking at my boyfriend’s apartment – I think I use their kitchen more than anyone else who lives there!). Thankfully, there are always tons of vegetarian and vegan options at points-only dining locations (not the dining halls), including the best day – Falafel Thursday! I can also use my meal points to buy fruits, some veggies, tofu, quinoa, and some other cooking (and baking) supplies.

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