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!

Happy 2019!

How to juggle the start of new classes and keeping up with your New Year’s resolutions.

Welcome, 2019! And to 2018: goodbye and good riddance! Time to get our heads screwed on tight. I’m not sure about anyone else, but I always ring in the new year with some (overly?) ambitious resolutions to help make me into who I want to be. I’m buckling down on making myself successful and happy. At this point in my life, what I do and how I react to situations is #mychoice. What choices will you make this year?

I spend most of my free-time focusing on how to better myself, whether that means I set my mind to working on my financial, emotional or physical health, or all three.

Eating Right

Of course everyone’s first New Year’s resolutions are to start treating their body better, right? As a college student, eating well, getting enough sleep and living out the #collegelifestyle is easier said than done. I’m sure I’m not the only student that has trouble eating well in dining halls on campus. My post on eating healthy on campus has specific tips to assist those that have trouble with finding the better options, but here’s the abridged version:

1. Skip sugary fountain drinks and opt for water first!

It’s okay to have a glass of lemonade or coke every once in a while, but try to get your fill with the healthier option during meals.

2. Eat 3-5 square meals a day.

This one is more difficult, especially if your university offers unlimited meal plans like mine does. Focus on a more standard breakfast, lunch and dinner if your schedule allows it and train yourself to not confuse snacks with meals.

3. Remember to eat!

On the opposite side of the spectrum, it’s easy to skip meals on busy days. Make time to sit down and have a meal rather than snack all day. I find myself only sitting down to eat once or twice a day sometimes, and contrary to popular belief, less meals = weight gain! Don’t fall into traps of self-starvation! Eat your food.

4. Find the healthy options.

I fell victim to this as I’m sure many others have. The fattening, quick foods high in sugar, sodium, and #badoils are readily available and on the first floor of the dining halls on campus. As hungry as you might be, and despite your cravings for cheese fries, walk around and look for the better options upstairs. Soups, salad bars, and hoagie/wrap stations offer healthier alternatives. Even the hot bar has veggies every day. Make what you put in your body a priority.

Physical Health

I always have issues with my body. My weight fluctuates weekly or monthly, and let me tell you: despite what some may think, your weight is not entirely dependent on your activity level. That being said, of course living a sedentary lifestyle will contribute to weight gain and copious other negative effects on both mental and physical health. Here’s some easy ways to combat laziness traps:

1. Walk to class.

This is definitely easier said than done. My campus offers free shuttle services and it is so easy to come up with excuses to take the easy way. KU has a hilly campus and these past few months have been especially brisk, windy, chilly, rainy, you get the gist. However, there’s extensive research supporting walking more, specifically in the morning. It’s a great way to get a jump on the day.

2. Utilize on-campus gyms and fitness centers.

Simple. Find out if your university offers free classes or open gym hours on campus. It’s free! Having a free gym has motivated me to go, even though I’m not the type of person that especially enjoys working out around other people. If you’re like me, scope out the gym for a few weeks and find when the least number of people tend to come by. For me, the best time to go is around 10am-1pm, as many students are at class around then. Moving on!

3. Develop a routine!

As important as exercise is, keeping your body from getting stressed out is just as important. Keep a regular sleep schedule. If you find yourself oversleeping and rushing to get to class every day, chances are you’re getting to sleep too late. Take naps if you have to! Whatever it takes to keep your body regularly functioning without too much assistance from caffeine, (or other substances) do it! Financial Comfort

This is a big one. If going to the on-campus Starbucks for all your meals wasn’t the most convenient and familiar option, it’d go out of business. But, and I’m sure others can agree with me on this, my monthly budget on non-essentials is practically non-existent. School is expensive, boo.

1. Eat at the dining halls!

This one is a huge deal. Many universities require first-years and/or on-campus residents to have a meal plan. If this is not the case for you, disregard! But if it is, I have news for you. You are required to pre-pay for more food than you are going to eat. So why spend money on even more food? Sure, it probably will taste better to eat at your favorite pizza place down the street. There might be better options or food that will meet your specific cravings. But it is beyond a waste of money to eat out if you’re required to have a meal plan. The end.

2. Find a job.

This is, again, easier said than done. Finding off-campus employment in a college town was next to impossible for me. Luckily enough, after weeks of searching, I was able to score part-time at a local pizza shop. But even then, so many students were employed there that we each only get about 3-6 hours of work every week, making minimum wage. But many on-campus organizations and systems need student help! Find out if your university’s dining, mail, or housing services are hiring!

3. Take it easy on recreational… substances.

This is not me bashing anyone’s definition of the #collegelifestyle (because I’m not going to pretend I don’t drink or smoke). But it’s hard to deny that drinking and smoking regularly does add up. Prices for nicotine products are skyrocketing with the popularization of JUULs and vapes, the cost of bud and carts are dependent on the dealer unless you grow your own, and it’s easy to drink too much when pre-gaming for parties. If you’re having budget issues, maybe don’t prioritize these activities over, say, having enough food for the week. Just a thought.

4. Save more than you spend.

Try to save at least half of each paycheck, if not more, and save up for fun trips with friends or to treat yourself at another time! If you’re planning on finding an off-campus apartment, saving money beforehand is key!

Emotional Well-being 

In my opinion, this is the most important aspect of well-being that we can pay attention to. On a serious note, keeping track on keeping yourself happy, clear-headed and stable is one of the most adult things you can do in a changing environment. These are my goals for this year:

1. Fight against emotional mental illnesses and personality disorders.

As someone who has been living with diagnosed bipolar disorder for some time now, I fully understand how hard it is to combat and normalize fluctuating energy levels, especially in the winter months. But I firmly believe in the ability to make my decisions and reactions #mychoice. Have a lack of energy? Invite friends over. It seems like it’s against your best interest at the time, but it’s hard to feel unmotivated when you’re outside having a snowball fight at 2am. Trust me. It helps. Feeling manic (not to be confused with happy)? Go for a run. Take a cold shower. Find your coping mechanisms and stick to them.

2. Journal.

When you journal your thoughts, they’re not running through your head. Try this when you’re feeling overly anxious or emotionally unstable. Another option is to journal every day to recognize patterns in your emotions and behavior. This helps to prevent mood swings!

3. Explore yoga and meditation!

Yoga is easy to teach to yourself, as many instructional videos are readily available on YouTube, Pinterest, and workout sites. Many yoga studios offer cheap classes and meditation training as well! It’s an easy and efficient way to both prepare yourself for a big day and to wind down after.

Have a great new semester! Have any suggestions? Comment below!