As I’ve mentioned before, I work at a university. I have a group of students who help out the RAs with the programming they have to do, so we start training in the beginning of August each year. During the three weeks of training, we eat lunch every day in the dining halls on campus.
I searched for “college dining hall” on Google images and this picture came up. Look familiar? Isn’t that the weirdest thing? So although it has nothing to do with my post today, I’m going to keep it in here 🙂
The food on our campus is great, but sometimes there aren’t that many options for healthy balanced meals that are gluten-free, other than a salad day after day! Also, the unhealthy options are so much more enticing when you see them laid out for you on the buffet. I haven’t really craved bread or wheat-filled cookies since I went Gluten-Free in February, but seeing them in the dining halls makes me want them so badly! I have to make a very conscious effort to pick the healthy foods every time I go to lunch.
Luckily, the dining hall we’ve been eating in this week has a GF station!! Lots of brown rice, mashed potatoes, and pumpkin apple cinnamon muffins!
If you’re like me and you have to eat in some sort of dining hall or cafeteria, here are some things to consider and tips to eating healthy:
The most important thing is to make sure you get a balance of protein, fats and carbs. In order to do that, you’ll need to determine what the options are each day. Some days the protein is baked chicken, but other days it is fried chicken! It is important to scope it out before making your final decision.
Things I’ve done to eat healthy in a college dining hall:
1. Start with a salad- usually the salad bars have lots of options, so you can switch it up every day so you don’t get bored! Plus, filling up on the fresh veggies first will make sure you get the nutrients you need.
2. Check out the soup options- I know it is the middle of summer, but the dining hall is always freezing! A few good soups I have seen are beef vegetable, cream of tomato, vegetable lentil, beefy chili, turkey and rice, and chicken noodle (I can’t have that one, but it is always a good option!)
3. When in doubt, go with fruit and yogurt- we are fortunate that we always have fresh fruit available.
4. Don’t be afraid to wander around- seeing what all is available first will help you pick out the healthiest options
5. Mix and match foods from the different stations- just because the chicken is served next to the onion rings doesn’t mean you have to get them together. The other day, the main meals were just not appetizing and a lot of them were not gluten-free. I checked out all of the options and ended up making my own concoction: brown rice from the vegetarian station, marinara sauce and Parmesan cheese from the pasta station, and steamed broccoli from next to the fried chicken. It wasn’t completely balanced, but it was a good amount of veggies, plus I started out the meal with a salad topped with two hard-boiled eggs as my protein.
6. Stick to a simple dessert- because I love to have something sweet at the end of a meal, I will often have a small bowl of frozen yogurt or ice cream. Or sometimes I just have a banana! Since most of the desserts have wheat in them, it is easy for me to make this decision. If you’re tempted by the cookies and cakes, stick to just one and savor it.
7. Don’t drink your calories- our dining halls now have naturally flavored water with orange or lemon slices, so if you are tired of plain water, seek out something like that. Remember the juices and sodas are loaded with empty calories, so drinking water is a much better option!
8. Do a little extra exercise- no matter how healthy you choose in the dining hall, chances are you’ll eat a little extra simply because it is there. I’ve been walking nearly a mile to get to the dining hall each day this week, which really helps!
I’ll still be eating in the dining hall a few days next week, but I’m excited to pack my own lunch on Monday! Although, I will miss the free meals 🙂
Do you ever have to eat in a cafeteria or dining hall? What do you do to eat healthy there?