How to Eat Well in On-Campus Dining Halls

It may be difficult to find the healthy options, but it’s not impossible! Here’s some tips to find better options!

If your university is like mine, chances are you have to have a meal plan if you’re a first-year student and/or if you live on campus. KU also requires all first-years that live on campus to have an unlimited meal plan, which costs upwards of $1700, depending on which plan you choose. I have a few tips to keep you eating well when all you can afford is dining hall food.

Scope out what’s being served before sitting down with food.

Don’t just settle for the first thing you see!

Often, the readily-available food is the most fattening and can raise cholesterol. The worst part? It is heavily advertised as it’s the first thing you see when you walk into the dining hall. My suggestion: put your stuff down to hold your spot at a table and then take a walk around. Salad bars and soup stations are often the healthiest options and have the most variety, but hot bars serve fresh veggies daily too! You may notice that many universities now provide nutritional information as well! No excuses. Make sure you get your fill of fruits and veggies daily.

Which leads us to…

Mix it up!

Who says you have to shop from only one section of the dining hall? See some tasty grilled chicken and asparagus at the hot bar? Put in on top of brown rice from the vegan section and add some olive oil and salt for a delicious and healthy meal! The combinations are endless.

Cut out sugary drinks and opt for water!

This one is pretty straight-forward. Water is obviously the best option compared to the other fountain drinks. Moderation is key! If you’re not ready to skip on soda completely, try to have one glass every day. Not much of a water person? Try juice at breakfast! Remember, juice is still high in sugar. Try to limit yourself to one or two glasses per day. If all else fails, carry around a reusable water bottle. Motivation water bottles like this have time markings to help you reach your goals! Stay hydrated!

Eat 3-5 meals per day.

Research shows that the best way to healthily lose weight is to actually eat. Not just snacks, not starving yourself. It’s hard to squeeze in meal-time once the semester gets into full swing, but I suggest carving out a solid 25-40 minutes to sit down, eat a full meal, and properly digest. Keep your body on a regulated regimen! If you don’t have enough time in your schedule to eat three full meals every day, you’ve packed your schedule too tight. Put your health first, people.

That being said…

Don’t overeat!

While 24/7 dining halls are convenient after going to parties downtown or when pulling all-nighters, consistently going for that 3am plate of cheese fries is definitely not the best way to curb late-night hunger. The fact that food is available is not a good justification eating more than you need to. Wake up in the middle of the night feeling a bit hungry? Try drinking some water. If that doesn’t work, keep crackers and small snacks stocked in your dorm to satiate you back into slumber. Once again, moderation is key.

Tackle your cravings.

This one seems pretty obvious, but its hard to stick to! Just for a reminder…

Desserts from the dining hall can be pretty hit or miss, but with lots of options, it’d hard to avoid! I try to stick to unhealthy desserts once or twice every week. Want to satiate your sweet tooth? Opt for jello, or better yet, fruit! Soft serve and cookies aren’t the only way to curb those cravings!

Dietary Restrictions

Ever wanted to trya vegan, vegetarian, keto, or gluten-free diet? Now is the time! University dining halls are beyond equipped to deal with any dietary restriction you may have and provide ample resources and options! At KU, this is especially true for vegan and vegetarian students. The best part? It’s covered by your meal plan. Just make sure to alert your dining services on campus that your dietary needs have changed! Give it a shot!

Try something new!

Go in looking for chicken nuggets and mac and cheese but something from the vegan bar catch your eye? Try to add one new healthy option or alternative to every meal! Whether that’s a slice of grapefruit with breakfast or opting for 100% whole wheat bread instead of white! You’ll never know what healthy alternatives you might like more!

And when all else fails…

Be creative.

Check Pinterest, magazines and websites for #dininghallhacks. Many creative students, writers, and foodies have come up with many ways to take healthy dining hall options to the next level! As a graduation gift, one of my neighbors gave me this book. I love it and strongly recommend!

Eating well on campus while saving my money is #mychoice.

Have any suggestions? Leave them in the comments below!

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