Dorm Living: Making Healthy Choices at the Dining Hall

Welcome back to the Dorm Living Series… let’s talk food.

Worried about the dreaded “freshman fifteen” or just trying to stick to that nutritious lifestyle while heading back to school? Here’s how to recognize what you’re eating and avoid unhealthy choices with food that you aren’t preparing yourself.

Be Careful With Self-Serve Options

COVID limited many self-serve options in schools, but some places have brought back buffet-style eating. When serving yourself, it can be difficult to see portions. It’s never good to grab too much food – you’ll either stuff yourself, or you’ll end up wasting half a plateful. You can always go back for more. Keep that in mind!

Portion Your Foods

Be mindful of portions to keep control of your intake. If meals are already plated for you, it’s likely one serving. This doesn’t mean you can’t get two plates, but just recognize what you’re eating and the healthy nutrition it gives you. Many schools post the nutrition info, including calories, for each meal. If you’re filling your own plate, be mindful that one cup of pasta is one serving, and so on. Again, a serving may look different for everyone, and it depends how many dishes you’re eating.

Check the Menu Ahead of Time

Nothing is worse than filling up on that special Italian dish you’ve never tried before, and then checking the menu later to see that it’s over 1,000 calories and it wasn’t the only thing you ate. When you’re watching your weight, it can be frustrating!

Check the menu ahead of time, it won’t hurt. Some things may surprise you. The most important thing to keep in mind, though: One bad meal won’t hurt you. Don’t put yourself down over it.

Look at the Nutrition Info

Many schools post the nutrition info right in front of the food station, for allergy reasons mostly. There’s no need to count up calories, fat or carbohydrates if you’re not trying to lose weight, but they’re just something to consider.

A lot of people see the effects on their bodies just from salt and sugar intake alone, which can cause inflammation and high blood pressure. It can be good to take these things into account even if you’re not on a weight loss program.

No More Than You Can Carry

Ok, I’ve definitely gotten back to my table with about four plates and two drinks. It happens. Sometimes you just really want to try something new, but also start with a salad, and also get a slice of your favorite pizza. It’s ok. Generally, though, this rule may help: No more than you can carry.

Limiting your plates is good for several reasons. Much of the time, you’re full before you even know it. It’s not until you’re deep into the third dish that you realize what you’ve done. Start with less. Go back for more.

Easy on the Drinks

Drinks have a lot of “hidden” sugar. I’ve found that it’s easier for me to lose weight when I cut out drinks, or at least limit them. Instead, have water with lemon, a sparkling water, tea, a sugar-free sports drink or sugar-free juice. Once you cut out the sugary drinks, you notice how sugary the other ones really are. This is a pretty easy way to start cutting back.

Desserts in Moderation

It’s ok to have dessert! I’ve been on a weight loss journey for a few months and I’ve still had tastes of ice cream, limoncello cheesecake, dark chocolate zucchini bread, freeze popsicles and more. The key here is moderation. If you have a big dinner and you’re full, maybe rethink that slice of chocolate cake. Ate healthy today? You deserve that bowl of ice cream.

There’s nothing you can’t eat while dieting. Don’t limit yourself like that, or you’ll be upset with your choices. To really challenge yourself, you can pick something to completely cut out, whether that’s desserts, drinks or alcohol, but it’s not a necessity to keep healthy or lose weight. They key is portion control, balance and moderation.

When eating in the dining hall, make your own plate if you can. Start with something healthy, fill up on that protein, and recognize what you’re feeling. Don’t eat when you’re already full!

Yours Truly,

Cat Taylor

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