Looking for healthy ways to navigate the dining halls? We’ve got you covered.
As college students, navigating the dining halls and campus eateries can be intimidating and overwhelming. Many students go from eating their parents’ home-cooked meals to now choosing from unlimited options. I know personally I would’ve loved some tips and guidance on what to put on my plate in my first years in college.
PantherDining recommends using the USDA’s MyPlate tool as a guide. The MyPlate website (myplate.gov) has several resources including tip sheets, infographics, videos and recipes for people in all stages of life to make healthier food choices.
Remember eating healthy doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing approach. Seeking a balance with healthful and enjoyable foods is a great mindset when navigating the dining halls. Here are some simple tips from myplate.gov to help you get started:
1. Rethink your drink.
Not only do the dining halls have copious amounts of food, but the drink selection is extensive too. It can certainly be tempting to drink high sugar beverages simply because they’re available, but be mindful when making your beverage choices. According to the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, added sugars should be limited to less than 10 percent of calories per day, with the top source of added sugars in the U.S. population being sugar-sweetened beverages (SSB).
Quick tip: Serve yourself a glass of water in addition to any SSB. Aim to drink the water first.
2. Make half of your grains whole grains.
Whole grains can help provide your body with important nutrients, such as dietary fiber and B vitamins like folic acid. Dietary fiber is a key nutrient that assists with healthy digestion, long lasting energy, satiety and regular bowel movements. Examples of whole grains are whole wheat bagels, 100% whole wheat breads, oatmeal, brown rice and whole wheat pasta.
Quick tip: Seek out whole grains in the dining hall. Check out the Wellness station for brown rice or quinoa, or look for homestyle oatmeal at breakfast.
3. Make half your plate fruits and vegetables.
Fruits and vegetables provide your body with essential nutrients for overall health and body maintenance. According to MyPlate, women and men ages 19-30 years old should aim to eat 2 cups of fruit and about 3 cups of vegetables per day. Both fruits and vegetables provide a great source of dietary fiber, which can help reduce blood cholesterol levels, as well as offer essential vitamins and minerals. Aim to eat whole fruits versus choosing fruit juices, as juicing strips fruit of its fiber content.
Quick tip: Add fruits and vegetables to your plate first, aiming to fill half the plate.
4. Select a variety of protein foods.
Proteins include meat, poultry, eggs, seafood, beans, legumes, soy products, nuts, nut butters and seeds. These foods contain vital nutrients other than just protein, such as iron, zinc, vitamin E and B vitamins. It’s recommended to limit protein sources that are high in saturated fat, such as beef, sausage and bacon. Choosing leaner meats at the dining halls, such as chicken and fish, can help you limit your saturated fat intake to less than 10 percent of calories per day, as recommended by the 2020-25 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. Protein foods, such as eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds and soy products, make great options for those who adhere to a vegetarian or vegan diet.
Quick tip: Choose lean proteins, such as grilled chicken from the Grill or shrimp from the International station. For plant-based protein, check out selections like grilled tofu at the Wellness station or edamame at the salad bar.
5. Keep your bones strong.
According to MyPlate, 90% of Americans don’t get enough dairy in their diet. Dairy products supply your body with nutrients, like vitamin D, calcium, vitamin A, potassium, protein and phosphorus. Dairy foods also help to build and maintain strong bones and healthy teeth. Low-fat options, like milk, yogurt or cheese, can make great additions to your daily food intake and contain low amounts of saturated fat. If you’re dairy-free, look for products fortified with calcium and vitamin D, like soy milk, soy products and calcium-fortified cereals and breads.
Quick tip: Start simple. Check out options, such as wraps, paninis and sandwiches, at the Deli station that have cheese on them.