How to Eat Healthy in a College Cafeteria

healthy college dorm food
Lonnie Duka/Photolibrary/Getty Images

Healthy college cafeteria food choices aren't as difficult as you may think. There are plenty of diet-friendly choices in your dorm's food hall. You just have to know where to find them. Use this guide to look past the cheese sticks and hamburgers and find foods that will keep you energized and healthy so you can focus on your studies.

College Cafeteria Foods to Eat

The healthiest foods won't always be the foods that are easiest to find.

In fact, you may have to do a little bit of digging to find the best choices. But don't be afraid to ask for what you need. Chances are good that there are other students who need the same healthy items.

After you grab your tray, fill up on these items first

  • Fresh fruit and vegetables
  • Low-fat dips, salsa or hummus
  • Whole-grain cereals, oatmeal or bread
  • Brown rice or other whole grains like quinoa 
  • Sweet potatoes (instead of regular baked potatoes)
  • Low-fat dairy products like skim milk, fat-free yogurt or cheese (in moderation)
  • Eggs, especially hard boiled eggs or eggs prepared without oil
  • Dark leafy salad greens with veggie and lean meat toppings
  • Meats or fish that are grilled or roasted

If you fill your tray with these fiber and protein rich foods you'll have less room for less nutritious items.

College Cafeteria Foods to Avoid

Of course, you'll want to indulge now and then and enjoy a few treats. But limit your consumption of these foods to keep your healthy eating plan on track.

  • Full calorie or diet soda
  • Sweetened teas or energy drinks
  • Ice cream or frozen yogurt (which often has more sugar and just as many calories!)
  • Baked goods like cookies and brownies
  • Processed meat products like hot dogs or sausage
  • Ground meat products like hamburgers or meat loaf
  • White bread, bagels, and other breakfast baked goods
  • White rice or mashed potatoes
  • Full fat dairy products like whole milk or butter.
  • Ice cream or ice cream products 
  • Pizza drenched in cheese (Veggie topped pizza is fine!)
  • Potato and tortilla chips
  • Other snack foods like pretzels, cheese curls or snack mix

If you focus on the foods to eat, you'll find that you fill up quickly and won't feel the need for more calorie-laden snacks and meals.

Healthy Foods for Your Dorm

So what do you eat when it's time to study in your dorm room? It can be really hard to come up with late night foods that won't derail your diet. But there are a few foods that are lower in calories but still tasty enough to satisfy your cravings. Use one of these lists to find the treats that you like. All of the items should be easy to find in your campus grocery store.

Article first published February 2009

Edited by Malia Frey

Continue Reading