Nutrition Articles

Healthy Dining in the Dorms

20 Tips to Eat Healthier on Campus

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Even though the notorious "Freshman 15" is really just a myth, leaving home for the first time can translate into weight gain or bad eating habits. It's hard to make healthy choices when confronted with a buffet of options in the dining hall. Plus, your parents won't be around to remind you to eat your veggies and late night pizza delivery can easily turn into a habit. We turned to the members of SparkPeople, who know a thing or two about changing bad habits, to get their tips for eating healthier when you go away to college.

Ask for Help
No matter what you're trying to accomplish, going it alone can be tough. If your goal is to practice healthier eating habits, turn to those around you for support and information. There are lots of people you can ask for help including your roommate, a nutritionist at your school's health center or the manager of your dining hall. Here's what SparkPeople members had to say:
  •  "Leave comments with your dining hall manager. Ours was extremely receptive to suggestions and added many healthy vegetarian main dishes, varied the salad add-ins, and had special vegan options (including dessert!) at every meal. Many chefs and cooks will welcome the challenge as they often don't get to 'express creativity' in places like dining halls." – COTTERR
  • "Find a buddy who is interested in eating well at the cafeteria, too. You can encourage each other along and offer suggestions. I have found this to be very effective when I have to eat at unhealthy restaurants. I model my choices on someone else who already makes great choices and it seems a lot easier than 'talking myself' into it every time." – JOYFULROAD
  • "Try stopping by the dietary services office and speak to someone face to face. Explain your eating goals and see what they have available. There are often vegetarian options and lighter options, but sometimes they were hard to find amid the more popular fried foods and burgers."  – SOCPAGE
  • "My university includes nutritional counseling as part of the student health fee. Check to see if your campus has the same type of thing. The counselor is probably very familiar with the offerings at your university and might be able to give you some specific advice." – PCVCHRISTINE Continued ›
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Member Comments

  • My university cafeteria was pretty good about healthy options so it wasn't really an issue for me. However, this is the best advice I found from this article and it relates to more than college food:

    "Remember there are minor alterations that you can make to the normally unhealthy foods you'll find in the dining halls. If the meal offered on a particular day is burgers, don't deprive yourself and only get salad. Go ahead and get a burger, just without the bun (or use lettuce leaves as your bun)."

    I think so many people misunderstand "healthy eating" as "only eating salads and fruits." You simply need to be aware of what you're eating, such as what's in it (fatty vs. lean) & what was used to cook it (fried vs. baked), and watch your portion sizes. - 8/12/2015 9:32:04 AM
  • Great info. Great advice. - 9/5/2013 8:22:16 PM
  • Great tips for all of us--thank you! - 12/2/2012 7:21:09 AM
  • our college dining hall had one main dish, canned veggies, a side, a salad bar and some kind of dessert. i craved fruit sooo much during college... - 6/4/2012 3:56:01 PM
  • AGABR003
    The biggest problem with our dining hall was the selection and preparation. There was usually only one vegetarian option (that almost always had cheese), and the entire salad bar was pre-packaged and never looked fresh. Maybe three options of fresh fruit.

    Compare those choices to a nacho/taco bar, dessert, "fried" station (burgers, fries, hot dogs, etc), pasta and garlic bread (almost always with heavy sauces, NEVER whole wheat pasta), pizza, stir fry (no low-sodium soy sauce here), and assemble your own sandwich (which very rarely had whole wheat bread). All of these were separate stations and all of the vegetarian/salad/
    fruit options were packed into the same station.

    A friend of mine had a gluten and cheese allergy (amongst several other food allergies) and the ONLY thing she could eat was either stir fry or the salad/fruit. The lack of choices (healthy or otherwise) were just appalling and definitely caused me to cain weight during the two years that I was living in the dorms on the meal plan, which at my school was only buffet style. - 6/12/2011 8:35:47 AM
  • I didn't get to eat a lot when I was going to school. I couldn't afford to buy much of anything in the dining room. I had to quit school, it's just too hard to study when you're not eating enough. - 12/12/2010 4:56:49 PM
  • My school doesn't have a buffet option; instead, it's per-item, and all heinously expensive for such low-quality stuff. The problem is the low quality. The cheapest items are the worst for you, the salad bar is stocked with half-rotted fruits and vegetables, the vegan food isn't actually vegan, and almost everything is covered in cheeses or cream sauces in an attempt to disguise how poorly made it is. Gr. Sorry to vent, but not only has the food here added 20 pounds to my body over two years, it's also made me sick - I've had unending stomach problems on the Hofstra diet, and I'm frustrated that even though there's a student club protesting the dining service, they still renewed the contract with a bad company this year. Lackmann sucks! - 2/20/2010 12:19:26 PM
  • I ate all I could eat in the dining halls and our dorms didn't have kitchens so I either ate a lot at the dining halls or ate out late at night (pizza, thai, chinese, indian, etc.). I lost 20 lbs junior year by going vegetarian, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and being creative. I also asked for cheese less pizza, more salad bar options and pita bread + hummus from our dining hall manager. - 11/10/2009 9:13:34 PM
  • It was SO hard for me to try and eat well while on the meal plan. I gained about 30 lbs during freshman/ sophmore years, and I really never ate any of the fries, hamburgers, etc... it was the unlimited and social aspects that really killed me. I finally BEGGED (literally, I went to one of the deans and begged) to be let off the buffet-only meal plan - my argument was that forcing an overweight person to eat in a buffet everyday was like forcing a heroin addict to be in a room full of free heroin and telling them not to touch it... it was ridiculous. After stopping the meal plan I lost 40 lbs by the end of the summer!!! - 4/15/2009 4:15:03 PM
  • Buffet style is a killer. I generally follow all of these suggestions on most days. Its just too bad that my school doesn't offer a great variety of whole wheat options, and the vegetables always look gross. I just feel like since I pay so much money to live and eat on campus, I shouldn't have to buy my own breakfasts and fruits and veggies.
    What a bummer. - 2/3/2009 11:57:50 PM
    how I wish I had read this article 2 years back.. i gained nearly 8-10 kgs (1 kg = 2.2 pounds) during my MBA. Working really hard to knock them off and get into shape. I must confess I thoroughly enjoyed those 2 years of my life.. including the food :) - 1/5/2009 10:12:07 PM
  • I wish I had followed these pointers when I first when to college a few years ago! :) - 11/18/2008 9:58:53 AM
  • It is a good idea to have some basic rules to remember. There are so many things to remember in school. A good article.
    - 9/20/2008 9:33:48 AM
  • I agree with the first comment, but it's nice to see a shout-out to the college students. - 9/16/2008 10:11:44 PM
    This is a great, basic article. A lot of times there is stuff you already know (duh, fries are not as good for you as spinach) but you need to see it all written out to make it click. I just sent this to my brother (who is the biggest sloth on the planet) because he is already gaining weight after a month at school and I don't want to see him in the position I was in by the end of my freshman year (up 30 lbs) - 9/16/2008 2:58:12 PM

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