If you are used to home-cooked meals and a stocked fridge at home, then the transition to a college meal plan may be daunting. College dining halls often offer a variety of meal choices but many students may opt for unhealthy, processed foods, such as pizza, pasta, and cookies. Further, many dining halls are all-you-can-eat style, and it can be difficult to control your portions to ensure that you are not overeating.
Overeating and poor nutrition can have negative consequences on how you feel and how your body functions. College can be stressful enough as is, so there is no need to add more stress into your life by making poor nutrition choices.
According to Harvard Medical School, your gut produces 95% of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate your appetite, sleep, mood, and inhibit pain. Thus, what you eat can significantly impact how you feel, both physically and emotionally.
Harvard further elaborates that studies have shown that those who eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, unprocessed grains, seafood, and low amounts of lean meat and dairy (the Mediterranean diet) have a 25-35% lower risk of depression than those who consume a typical “Western” diet. Therefore, paying close attention to what you eat can significantly influence how you feel during your college experience.
However, a college meal plan does not mean you have to give up your healthy eating habits! Here are our top five tricks to eating healthy on a college meal plan:
- Scan all your options first: Before you decide what food station you would like to try, make sure that you check out all the options first. This way, you can decide that you want chicken from the Mexican station and salad from the salad bar and skip the rest. If you do not scan all your options first, you may end up with pizza and pasta before you even realize that there is a Mexican and salad station, and this can lead to overeating.
- Stock up on fruits and vegetables to save for later: Oftentimes, college dining halls will offer fruits and vegetables that you can easily take back to the dorm with you. Grabbing a banana, snack pack of carrots, or any other to-go fruit or vegetable is a great way to make sure that you are staying healthy between meals, too! This way, the next time you are spending a long night studying, you will have healthy snack options easily accessible.
- Skip the sugary drinks: College dining halls almost always have a soft drink station where you can get unlimited soda and juice. Although it may be tempting to get a soft drink with every meal since it is included, these drinks contain a ton of sugar and unhealthy ingredients. We all know that soda is not the best for you, but a recent study examined over 45,000 individuals and found that greater consumption of total, sugar-sweetened, and artificially sweetened soft drinks was associated with a greater risk of all causes of death. Thus, be sure to steer clear of the soft drink machine and stick to water or unsweetened tea and seltzer water.
- Stock up on healthy, dorm-friendly meals: If you are on a meal plan, then you may not want to spend a lot of money outside of the money that you are already spending on-campus food. However, if you have any extra spending money, invest it in your nutrition by stocking up on healthy, dorm-friendly meals. For example, microwavable oatmeal without added sugar is a great staple to keep around for those times when you need a quick and healthy meal without leaving your room.
- Limit your dessert: This tip may seem self-explanatory but it can often be difficult to resist the temptation to grab a dessert with every meal. Many dining halls have warm cookies and other treats that come with your meal so it can be very hard to say no. Instead of caving and eating dessert with every lunch and dinner, try limiting your dessert to once or twice a week. Sweets are okay in moderation and can be a fun treat to look forward to when it is something you only get every now and then.