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How to Make Healthy Choices in the Dining Halls

As an on-campus student, I find myself eating at dining halls more often than not. One thing I hear fellow students complain about is the lack of healthy food options in the dining halls. However, as a frequent patron of the commons, I disagree. The problem isn’t that the commons don’t serve healthy food, it’s that students tend to make unhealthy choices. As a student who has avoided the dreaded freshman 15 in my first year, here are my tips to eating healthy on-campus.

Vegetables are your friends!
I see so many people complaining about a lack of healthy food who then eat a hamburger with fries for dinner every night. One of the reasons for college weight gain is that students no longer have their parents making sure that they eat their veggies every night. All dining halls offer vegetables for dinner, so eat some. They are filling and provide vitamins and minerals that those deep-fried potatoes just can’t offer. And if you just can’t stand the flavor of green beans or broccoli, at least try to eat a salad with every meal. Lettuce is at least better than no greens!

Watch what you drink.
Fountain drink machines are one of the worst parts of any cafeteria. The plethora of unlimited soda choices just begging for you to drink are so tempting. But here are the facts: one 12 oz. of soda contains about 40 grams of sugar (and don’t even think about how many times you get up to refill that glass). Diet sodas are no better. They contain many chemicals that retrain your brain to want a higher level of sweetness, which means you end up eating more as a result. Stick to water or unsweetened ice tea, and add a lemon if you’re really craving flavor. It’s a small change that can really have a drastic effect on your overall health.

Sweet Tooth? There are options for you.
I love dessert. While sugar filled delights are easily my favorite part of meal time, most of the desserts I eat aren’t the calorie-crammed cakes and ice cream offered by the dining halls. Sure, the all-you-can-eat creamery ice cream is tempting, but a healthier alternative is a bowl full of the fro-yo. I personally like to mix in a little bit of OJ to get that creamsicle flavor, but the sweet creamy taste will fulfill your creamery cravings without loading you up with the full fat of ice cream. Also, check out the fruit options that are offered. With naturally occurring sugars, fruit is a great way to have some satisfying sweetness without all of the processed junk in other desserts. However, I will admit that my personal exception to this rule are the cookies in West. Sometimes chocolate-filled unhealthiness is just worth it.

Portion size is everything
Basically, you can eat whatever you feel like eating so long as you eat it in moderation. Do you just really want some of the mac and cheese tonight? Get some, but only serve yourself a small spoonful rather than an entire bowl. I like to eat the healthiest parts of my meal first so that I’m already slightly full before I plow into my plate of pasta.

Ultimately, don’t blame the dining halls for being unhealthy when you choose to eat pizza every night. It’s not that hard to eat well in the dining halls if you’re aware of what you’re putting into your mouth.

About the Author


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Staff Picks: Grabbing A Drink With A Prominent Penn Stater

If you had the chance to hear about Penn State from (or throw down at a State College bar for a night with) some of its most prominent figures, who would you want to grab a beer with?

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