Navigate Your College Campus’ Cafeteria Like a Pro!

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Healthy Unhealthy Balance

While there’s rarely a shortage of food on campus, finding options that are both high quality and healthy is often challenging. In fact, most students find one of the most appealing aspects of off-campus housing to be the kitchen and full-sized fridge. Not to mention, how many times has someone mentioned the infamous Freshman Fifteen?

Campus dining halls are packed to the brim with unhealthy options such as pizza, hamburgers, french fries and more. On top of that there’s a strong societal expectation for college students to maintain their pre-college weight. However, navigating the college cafeteria is so much more than avoiding a number on a scale and ridiculous stigmas. It’s about making your meal plan work for you, and making choices that will gear you up for a long day of classes and an even longer night of studying. Here are a few tips (many learned the hard way) to help get you by:

Know what you like. Eating at the dining hall is certainly no five-star experience, so many times you’ll have the best luck sticking to meals you already know you like. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t go out of your comfort zone and try something new but, if you don’t like it at home or at a tasty restaurant, odds are you won’t like the dining hall’s version much better.

Keep it simple. Some school cafes try to get creative with their food, attempting to recreate typically very fancy or international cuisines. While there is an off chance they could nail it, it’s usually a total bust. Simple meals are harder to mess up, and are usually a safe bet.

Think outside the box. There are several simple options at the dining hall that are almost a surefire way to a quick and painless meal (think pasta, pizza, salad and any other meals that are difficult to ruin). However, eating the same foods over and over again gets old quick. Try making a “frankenstein meal” – see what foods you can piece together from different parts of the cafe to create something you genuinely like. For example: See some tasty looking grilled chicken at the deli bar but not in the mood for a sub? Ask for the chicken separately and throw it into a salad or some pasta. It spices up the traditionally boring dining hall meals and helps you create something you actually want to eat.

Watch your serving sizes.  Believe it or not, it’s easy to fall into the trap of eating pizza, fries and other unhealthy foods two to three meals a day. And if your dining hall has an ice cream bar, you might be doomed…but you don’t have to be. It’s hard to say no to these temptations, especially when everyone else at the table is indulging. However, think about what foods are going to fuel you. And if you still want that ice cream? Go for it, girl! Fill up on a big green, leafy salad for your meal, and then indulge in a scoop or two of cookie dough ice cream. You can have the best of both worlds.

College is a time to grow, be inspired and learn. Mistakes will happen, often. Maybe you get overwhelmed and binge on chicken fingers and fries the whole first half of fall semester. It’s not the end of the world…even if you gain the Freshman Fifteen (or 20 or 30) It’s never too late to revamp your dining hall procedures and incorporate healthier options. Be smart, be yourself and know you’ve totally got this!

Which foods will be your go-to this year? Do you like the cafeteria food? Let us know!

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Holly Habeck
Holly is a second year marketing major with strong interests in graphic design, computer science and journalism. She is the founder and editor of the life and style blog The Blonde Chiffon (http://www.theblondechiffon.com/), which she uses as both a creative outlet and a means to inspire other creative young women. In her free time, Holly enjoys travelling, riding horses and reading the latest bestsellers. Follow along with her on her blog, Instagram and Twitter!