Navigating The College Cafeteria: What To Go For and What To Avoid

Staying healthy, and perhaps more importantly, avoiding the freshman 15, is the end goal of a lot of college students during their first semester on campus. And, it’s more difficult than it may first appear. Food offered as all you can eat, whatever you want, and, in some schools, whenever you want it, can make this much more difficult to resist temptation and stay healthy.

I’m using my knowledge of my cafeteria as well as other schools that I’ve visited, but I think that these are rules that can be generally applied to any cafeteria.

  •  Avoid: The grill.

In my experience, the grill is the main place for hamburgers, grilled cheese, hot dogs, other hot sandwiches, even French toast on occasion. The downside to this is that it is also the main place for French fries, chicken nuggets and other fried goodies.  And, this also means that it is terribly unhealthy for you. It’s good in moderation, but be careful of going there too much. It’s comfort food, but that hardly makes it healthy.

  • Try instead:  The sandwich shop.

If you’re in the mood for any sandwich, you might as well build your own. You can add vegetables this way, and also get your own bread, and if you’d like it warm, they may be able to either grill it or put it in a Panini press for you, so you could have the best of both worlds.

  • Avoid: The buffets/serve yourself.

These can be a problem, particularly because it is all you can eat. That’s great if you’re hungry, but not so much if you are not. Because if you serve yourself on bigger plates, you could be less inclined to watch how much you eat. If the cafeteria has nutrition information readily available, this can be tricky too, because you may or may not get multiple servings on your plate that you might not be accounting for.

  • Try instead: Pre-portioned plates. 

This is how my school breaks up the food, although we do it more by meals than not. Lunch has the food portioned on plates that you grab, while dinner is more buffet style.  However, the pre-served lunch has some added advantages:

  1. You know that the serving size is aligned with the nutrition facts, and
  2. You can guess  how filling it will be.
  •  AvoidThe ice cream machine (excessively)

I’ve heard that this is the biggest adversary in freshman diets. The amount of ice cream, and the fact that when you eat it is entirely up to you, is something that you need to decide right at the beginning, and you need to stick to it.

  • Try instead: The baked goods section, or fruit.

Again, this comes down to portion control. Admittedly, a stack of cookies would be worse for you than a small amount of ice cream. But if it comes down to a bowl or something small, that’s probably the better cause. Of course, fruit is the best for you out of all of them.

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Stefanie Hughes

Stefanie Hughes

Stefanie Hughes is a senior at Benedictine University, with a double major in Writing & Publishing and Theology. She spends her free time working on Benedictine’s newspaper, The Candor, as well as being a member of Daughters of Isabella, Students for Life, and helping around University Ministry. Any other extra time is filled with reading, writing, cooking, video editing, biking or walking around the lake.