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Navigating the Cafeteria

As college students, there are no parents around to tell you to finish your broccoli before you get dessert; you have the freedom to eat whatever you want, whenever you want. Just because nobody is telling you what to eat, does not mean that this is your opportunity to load up on french fries and gummy bears for dinner. With tons of temptations lurking in every corner of the cafeteria, here are a few tips and tricks to help you make the healthiest choices when eating at the dining hall.

You DON'T want fries with that

French fries, and other fried foods like onion rings and chicken nuggets, are high in calories, and low in nutritional value. Plus, they are loaded with saturated fat, which clogs your arteries and may eventually lead to heart disease. Try to make french fries and other fried foods a treat you enjoy once in a while, rather than an everyday staple. Instead of ordering french fries, or other fried dishes, opt for a side salad, a bowl of soup, or a baked potato.

Choose Water

Beverages like soda, juices and even “healthy” sounding drinks like “vitamin water” may look appealing, but when it comes to hydration, water should be your number one beverage. Sodas and juice drinks are high in calories and sugar and low in nutrients. 

To put this into perspective, if you cut out one (20 oz) soda every day for one year you would save: 91,000 calories, 26 pounds, and 108 cups of sugar.

Water and club soda have zero calories, sugar, or chemicals.Choose water.

The Salad Bar

Salads are a terrific way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet. With countless salad toppers and dressings, it can be easy to load up on ingredients that contain little nutritional benefit. If you are looking to lose weight, keep in mind that the calories can add up; just because it’s on a bed of lettuce, does not mean it’s good for you. Follow these 5 steps to help you maximize the health potential of every salad.

  1. Choose a base: Darker leaf lettuces tend to have more vitamin and minerals, but stick to what you love. Don’t be afraid to mix two lettuces like romaine and spinach.
  2. Pile on the veggies: Non-starchy vegetables, like tomatoes, broccoli, zucchini, carrots, peppers, and cucumbers have loads of vitamins and minerals, and very few calories. Make these the stars of your salad, and add as much as you would like.
  3. Pack the lean protein: Choose a lean protein like grilled chicken, eggs, egg whites, turkey, fish, a veggie burger, or tofu. Steer clear of anything fried and go light on the cheese.
  4. Choose “salad extras” wisely: Cut back on bacon bits, croutons, and crunchy noodles - they have little nutritional benefit, but contain lots of calories. If you love these tasty toppers, choose one or two, and enjoy. Make them the supporting roles of the salad but not the main stars.
  5. Dress for success: Choose vinaigrette-type dressings over creamy dressings like blue cheese, thousand island and ranch. Use all dressings sparingly and look at nutritional information if available. When in doubt, top your salad with balsamic vinegar and a splash of olive oil.


Sandwiches are perfect vehicles for vegetables. Follow these tips to help you maximize your sandwiches’ nutrition:

  • Choose 100% whole wheat bread over white bread.
  • Go easy on the condiments. Choosing mustard or light mayonnaise are two low-calorie options. You can even add creamy mashed avocado in place of condiments.
  • Pile on lettuce, tomato, cucumbers, olives, peppers and any other non-starchy vegetables you like. You can also bring over vegetables from the salad bar and ask them to put them on your sandwich.
  • Choose a lean protein like turkey or grilled chicken. If available, ask for low-sodium deli meats.
  • Go light on the cheese, or skip it all together if you are looking to save calories.


Indulging in dessert in moderation is perfectly fine. However, cookies, donuts, and cupcakes lack nutritional value, so have small portions once in a while. Eating a cookie or cupcake after every meal will likely lead to weight gain because you are consuming extra calories. If you want to end your meal on a sweet note, try eating a piece of fruit, a single portion ice-pop, or a piece of dark chocolate.

Protip: Wait 5-10 minutes after finishing your main course before deciding to have dessert. It can take up to 20 minutes for you to feel full, so allowing yourself a few minutes to digest, may help you decide whether you have room for dessert. This can prevent you from overeating.

Snacking for Success

Snacking is important to prevent excessive hunger between meals and to keep your blood sugars stable. A healthy, well-proportioned snack can actually make you less likely to binge or overeat at mealtimes. A good guideline is to keep your snacks between 150 and 200 calories each.

Ideal snack combos contain both fiber and protein. These will help satisfy your hunger. Some A+ snacks include:

  • Apple + String cheese
  • Berries + Greek yogurt
  • Banana + Nut Butter
  • Carrots + Hummus
  • Roasted Chickpeas

Be wary of pre-packaged snacks. Always look at the nutrition labels and take note of how many servings are in each package. There are often at least 2 servings per package, which means you have to DOUBLE the calories, saturated fat, sugars, and everything else if you eat the entire package.

When you’re looking to re-energize, avoid eating sugar-laden foods like donuts and candy. These treats will cause your blood sugar levels to drop shortly after, leaving you feeling tired and hungry…again.