There are many stereotypes about college life. You’ll sleep till noon; you’ll learn about the wonders of liquor bottled in plastic handles; you’ll hang one of 10 popular posters up in your room freshman year. Many of these stereotypes are true…but none is truer than the famed (and feared) freshman 15.
It’s no mystery why we gain weight at college. The steamed trout at your dining hall is probably not very good, which means a lot of burgers from the grill station and late-night pizza runs. But take it from someone who spent four years without kitchen access: it is possible to stay healthy within the walls of the cafeteria; you just have to have a little imagination.
**Tips and Tricks to Stay Healthy in the Cafeteria**
1. Salads. Salads are a great, healthy, filling option for any time of day. I like my salads with plenty of vegetables so there’s lots of variety–just make sure to beware of ingredients like bacon, cheese, and creamy dressings. If you’re wary of your cafeteria’s dressing options, here is a great vinaigrette you can make yourself with ingredients that are all readily available. If you wanna have a little more fun, go lighter on the lettuce and put your mixed grains and veggies in an edible bowl!
2. Sandwiches. Making your own sandwich can be a good approach because you get to control all the ingredients (is it a coincidence that I am a control freak whose favorite food is the sandwich?). Vary up your base, your fillings, and your condiments for infinite variety. Stay away from breads like heros or sub rolls, and instead opt for whole-wheat bread or tortilla wraps; and try creamy avocado or hummus in lieu of mayonnaise. This healthy and delicious vegetable tartine is sandwich-esque, and can be made in the cafeteria using whatever fresh ingredients are offered that day.
3. Low-cal soups. Lentil soup is a great comfort dish and and at less than 200 calories per cup, it’s okay to go back for seconds. Steer clear of New England Clam Chowder, and aim for brothier, vegetabl-ier options. Instead of reaching for that dinner roll, eat it with some brown bread or a pita.
4. Pita Pizzas. Pizza doesn’t have to be a forbidden food if you make it yourself, mindfully. Using a pita or tortilla as a base, limiting the amount of cheese you use, and going a little heavier on the veggies will give you a satisfying meal without breaking your caloric bank.
5. Parfaits. The perfect thing for either breakfast or dessert, a parfait is, again, infinitely variable. Layered with good-for-you-goodies like yogurt, fruit, and granola (go light on the granola; it’s a lurking calorie bomb),
6. Vegetables. When in doubt, use vegetables as a base. Subbing out pasta or bread for a base of broccoli or salad means you can still top with cheese or meat or a little of whatever cafeteria offering appeals to you that day. It’s also worth scouring and livening up the salad bar options. One of our favorites is this jazzed-up hummus.
7. Make a meal out of sides. When none of the entrees look appealing, dine the European way. If your cafeteria has smaller plates, choose one, fill it with a side of steamed veggies and polenta or brown rice, take it back to your seat and eat. Wait a few minutes before going back to get another plate to try a couple other sides. Spacing out your eating between servings gives your stomach time to tell your brain that its full, and using smaller dishes makes you feel like you’re getting more food than you actually are.
Lily Bellow graduated in 2009 from Harvard University with a degree in English Literature. While in college, she bartended and cooked at the campus pub, and as a result has a difficult time eating chicken wings.