Without Mom's home-cooked meals and a fully stocked fridge, eating just isn't the same in college. Swiping into your dining hall for the first time, you're bombarded with all-you-can-eat cheesy pasta, chicken tenders, and desserts so that it ends up just way too easy to go overboard. Here are some tips for how to be healthy in the dining hall to keep your taste buds happy and your stomachs full.

Utilize Multiple Stations

Ashley Thompson

I can’t stress this one enough. I always hear people saying that the stations never really have what they’re looking for, so they end up eating mediocre pasta or pizza because it’s easiest. I recommend taking a lap around the dining hall when you first enter, keeping in mind the fact that a balanced meal contains a protein source, healthy fats, carbs, and lots of veggies. Pick out your favorites from each station to build your plate. One meal that I've created is  chicken breast from the grill, brown rice from the home station, and green beans from the international station.

Hack the Salad Bar

Ashley Thompson

I’ll be the first to admit I was kind of disappointed with my school’s salad bar. The options there were definitely not as good as the ingredients I had at home.

I highly recommend mixing and matching ingredients to make a filling and healthy lunch. Start with a base of leafy greens and add in some extra veggies like bell peppers, shredded carrots, and tomatoes. Then add a protein source like chickpeas, black beans, or chicken. Spice it up by adding some delicious toppers like raisins or dried cranberries, and healthy fats like nuts and avocado. Lastly, something that makes all the difference is bringing your own dressing when the ones from the dining hall just don’t cut it. Whether you're bringing a favorite dressing from home or buying one at the store, it makes eating salads so much more enjoyable.

#SpoonTip: My favorite dressing to bring to school is my mom's best dressing for her Kale and Brussels Sprouts Salad.

BYOF (Bring your own food)

Ashley Thompson

Bring healthy additions to supplement your meals if the dining hall doesn't have what you're looking for. Rice cakes are a great option. I usually top them with nut butter or avocado and pair it with eggs for a hearty and nourishing breakfast. If your dining hall is lacking in fruit, bring some frozen berries to top your yogurt or oatmeal. Or, if you're looking for a quick snack, hummus makes the perfect combination with carrots, broccoli, or bell peppers that you can easily find at the salad bar.

Grocery Shop in the Dining Hall

Ashley Thompson

We all know the classic go-to college meals like easy mac and ramen, but you can make healthier quick food by keeping staples from the dining hall. Take a to-go box and fill it with healthy snacking food like bananas, carrots, apples, and peanut butter. 

One of my favorite breakfast options is making chia seed pudding using the almond milk from the dining hall to have an easy breakfast in the morning. Trust me, you'll thank me later when you get back to your dorm super late you're starving.

Find Different Ways to Spice it Up

Ashley Thompson

Dining hall food is notorious for being so. freaking. bland. Salt and pepper are always the way to go, but you can also try adding sauces like salsa, soy sauce, and hot sauce to your meals to avoid having dinner taste like nothing.

Utilize the Custom Stations

Ashley Thompson

If your dining hall has custom stations, this is the perfect place to eat when you need something reliable and tasty. The omelet station is a perfect breakfast to get some protein, vegetables, and healthy fats to start your day. Opt for veggies like peppers, onions, and spinach to bulk up your breakfast and get in some extra micronutrients. Spinach is especially nutrient and vitamin-rich, containing iron, calcium, and vitamins C and K.

Stir fry stations are also perfect for an easy and healthy dinner option. I like to add snap peas, carrots, peppers, spinach, and a healthy source of protein like chicken or tofu to mine to have a balanced meal.

Have a Plan for Meal Times

Ashley Thompson

This last tip is especially important. The worst thing is when you're not hungry enough during lunchtime, but by the time you get out of class, the dining hall isn't serving lunch anymore. Then you have to resort to the random snacks in your room and anything you can find in your fridge for a makeshift meal.

I highly recommend planning out your day beforehand to make sure that you're able to eat three meals every day. This can mean making a quick stop at lunchtime and taking a to-go box to class, or just planning your route to class around the nearest dining hall to grab breakfast.

The goal of being healthy in the dining hall can seem intimidating at first, but once you learn how to navigate the ins and outs of each station, eating healthy doesn't seem like such a daunting idea.