5 Tips for Eating Healthy in a College Cafeteria

There are a ton of elements vying for your attention during college. You've got your course load, and the hours of studying required in order to take best advantage of the opportunities. There are the extracurricular activities that truly express who you are and look great on your post-college resume. And of course there's socializing, which may be the most important aspect of college when all is said and done. That doesn't leave much time for cooking, and most college students left to their own devices would probably eat microwave noodles five nights a week. Thankfully there's the college cafeteria, and the meal plan you'll live off of for the whole semester. While there's a ton of variety available, eating every meal at the college cafeteria is one of the main reasons most kids end up packing on the 'Freshman Fifteen'. Here are five tips for eating healthy in a college cafeteria, to help you avoid that fate.

First of all, skip the desserts. Just because it is there doesn't mean you should eat it, and almost no healthy diet involves a dessert with each and every meal. Instead, make those delicious slices of chocolate cake or freshly baked cookies your reward for a job well done. Treat yourself when you get a good grade, or celebrate making a weight loss goal with a little cheat. Just don't get in the habit of popping a donut in your mouth every morning simply because it's on the menu.

Think about how you will structure your day's eating in advance. Most health experts will suggest you eat your largest meal in the morning, so you are fueled for the day. Then each following meal can get smaller and smaller. Dinner should be minor, and at least a couple of hours before bedtime. You can adjust things if you need to tailor your eating for a workout or sports schedule, or if you do better with five to eight small meals a day instead. Whatever works for you is great, but keep that structure in mind when you get there in the morning. Most cafeterias will put up a daily or weekly menu, so you can plan things in advance.

Take a look at the plate you are putting together as a mini version of the food pyramid. In general you want to eat fruits and vegetables as the bulk of your meal, with a small amount of lean protein and complex carbohydrates. If you took a snapshot of your plate and turned it into a pie chart, how would it measure up? If you're looking to get healthier, adjusting the percentages of the food on your plate to fit modern nutritional research is a good way to go about it.

Also think hard about portion control. One of the easiest ways to gain weight is to overeat on a daily basis. So don't treat the school cafeteria as your all-you-can-eat buffet. Hop online if you need some specific reminders about how to portion your food. But in general, the piece of lean protein you eat should be no larger than your fist. You can pile on the veggies, and obviously minimize your fat and sugar intake.

Most of the heavy calories in cafeteria food don't come from the elements of the meal itself, but from what you add on top of them. So go easy on the sauces, spreads and dressings. You can eat salad every day of your life and reap tons of health benefits, but if you weigh it down with fatty dressings you are losing a lot of the benefits. Turkey or chicken dinners are both great options, as long as you skip the gravy. And it doesn't take a nutritionist certified from to know that frozen yogurt is perfectly fine without hot fudge, chocolate candies or marshmallow topping. Keep your meals basic, and you'll be much better off.