Healthy Eating In College

January 4, 2013

Hi friends!  Now that we are in a new year (2013 already!?!) I wanted to write up a special post for those that are heading back to college.  A lovely reader (hi Camille!) asked if I could write up a post about healthy eating in college.  Warning: this is one lengthy post.

I went away to UNR for a year and a half before returning back to Vegas to complete school.  It was my first experience living on my own.  I lived it up in the dorms my first year.   Looking back, I did NOT eat healthy in college.  Unfortunately, that is where I gained a lot of weight.  Late night pizza, drinking games galore and large portions took a toll.  My situation is not uncommon though.  Looking back way before I was majoring in nutrition sciences, I could have used some of these helpful tips.

Let’s start with eating on campus… most commonly known as the Dining Commons, or DC as we used to call it. I would compare the DC to a buffet.  There are loads of different options for you to choose, both healthy and not so healthy.

How to Navigate the DC:

  • Have a plan. Most people that go to buffets often want to try everything and anything because they don’t have an idea of what to eat.  Since you eat at the DC most days, try to have an idea of what you will have ahead or time.  If you still aren’t sure, try doing a lap first before deciding on your entrée.
  • Make a healthy plate.  Failing to listen to number one, I would often have a plate fill of unhealthy carbohydrates and little vegetables and fruit.  Make sure your plate follow the myplate guidelines.
      • Carbohydrate options: bread, rice, pasta, starchy vegetables such as corn, peas, potatoes, etc.
      • Protein: chicken, beef, pork, beans, nuts, cheese etc.
      • Vegetables: Half your plate of any non-starchy vegetable
      • Fruit: 1 serving of fresh fruit or ¼ cup dried fruit.


  • You can always go back for seconds.  It is important to remember that seconds are ok if you are still hungry after eating a healthy plate.  You don’t want to fill up your plate initially cause often we will eat what is front of us.  After eating and chatting with friends (I swear, we would sit in the DC for hours) if you are still hungry, have a second serving.  There is a catch….make sure it is a fruit or vegetable.  Be sure to fill up on water too!
  • Salads are not always the healthy choice.  I think one of the reasons I gained weight was being exposed to foods I was not used to eating-and my mom wouldn’t have at home.  The salad bar was so much fun to me!  Croutons, bacon bits, cheese, ranch…the list went on

    and on!   If you want to enjoy

    a healthy and delicious salad, be sure to fill your plate with a variety of vegetables first.  Examples include lettuce, carrots, broccoli, celery and peppers to name a few.   Aim for one fruit option including dried cranberries, raisins, or fresh fruit like strawberries.  Choose one lean protein.  This can include chicken or other meat, beans or nuts.  Lastly, try to choose a vinaigrette based dressing since creamy ones (ranch, thousand island, bleu cheese) have more fat and calories.

  • Be mindful as you leave the DC.  I remember that frozen ice cream machine the DC has.  You can take an ice cream cone with you on your way out.  They actually have one just like it at the hotel I now work at.  Although you can indulge occasionally, those little cones can add up so make sure to limit them to once or twice a week.

If You Have Access To a Kitchen, Microwave, Fridge etc.:

  • Make a list and stock up.  If you have the option to go to the grocery store, fill up your dorm or apartment with staples such as fruit, nuts, oatmeal and peanut butter.  A lot of these items are great for snacks and healthy breakfasts.
  • Healthy can be easy.  Salads and wraps are both easy, yet healthy ideas to make at your home.  Fill your wrap with turkey breast, peppers, tomatoes, onions and hummus.  And hey, wraps are portable so no excuse to skip on meal when you are on your way to class!!  Quinoa dishes are also easy..this is one of my favs!


  • Enlist help.  Encourage your roommate or friend to get on board with healthy eating.  Not only will you keep each other motivated, you can help to prep and cook meals together.

A big rule of thumb:  be sure to choose your drinks wisely!  We all know that college is a time to party, but those calories from alcohol sure do add up quick.  Steer clear of drinks that have a lot of added sugar like

margaritas and jungle juice (good times!).

If you do plan on drinking, make sure you eat a healthy and balanced meal before.  We all know that a late night Del Taco run will not be the best thing for ya even though it will feel like it at the time. Winking smile

Thanks for reading!  If you need any more ideas for healthy eating in college, feel free to email me at

It’s your turn.  Please share any tips for healthy eating in college.

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teri@managedmacros January 4, 2013 at 11:40 pm

Good tips friend!
I went to school as a non traditional student, I didn’t eat in the SC once!
My son will need read a list like this real soon!!
Way to be an awesome dietitian!

Sara @ Nourish and Flourish January 5, 2013 at 6:47 am

These are wonderful tips! I actually entered college super paranoid about gaining the freshman 15, so I stayed away from the dining hall as much as possible. I bought a mini fridge for my room and packed that thing full of “diet” food, which I now realize was much worse than the semi-fresh stuff I would have eaten had I just gone to the dining hall! Lean Cuisine and 100-calorie pack cupcakes, anyone? ;)

Swanky Dietitian January 7, 2013 at 3:53 pm

Ahh, yes. The days of Lean Cuisine and 100 calorie packs. We have learned so much since then! :)

Kari @ bite-sized thoughts January 5, 2013 at 7:54 am

What a great post – thank you :) I’m not in college any more but I still found it useful!

Swanky Dietitian January 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Oh good! I am so glad, Kari! :)

EA-The Spicy RD January 5, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Great tips Kristen! For me, the first couple of years in college, I was in the diet mentality, which back then meant fat free everything-NOT what I recommend these days! But there were also late night splurges on cheeses fries after partying-again not so healthy! My weight was stable, though, because I ran a lot, so at least I did something right :-)

Tiffany the Dietitian January 6, 2013 at 5:12 am

Good tips! I’m pretty sure I maintained my weight in college only because I jogged a lot! I ate quite a bit. And even though it was mostly healthy food, it still can add pounds unless you practice portion control :) I like the new my plate. I think it’s much more user friendly.

Swanky Dietitian January 7, 2013 at 4:03 pm

Yes, it is a step in the right direction for sure!

Swanky Dietitian January 7, 2013 at 4:13 pm

Tiffany, the chicken on your blog looks great! I am not able to post since I have my self hosted WordPress blog though. :( It doesn’t offer me the option. Just know I am reading!

Tanya @ Dine, Dash, and Deadlift January 10, 2013 at 1:50 am

I also can’t comment on your blog Tiffany but I love it! :-(

Sarah January 6, 2013 at 10:28 pm

These are some really great tips! It’s quite different here in the UK as you can opt for self-catering accommodation rather than just eating at the canteen, which is what I did. My main tip would be to keep really quick and easy foods for meals on hand, so you don’t end up choosing between buying something unhealthy and studying or spending ages cooking and not managing to get your work done – wholewheat pasta, protein and veg is always a good healthy, quick option!

Lauren January 7, 2013 at 12:34 pm

such a useful post, going to tweet it to our college foodtrainees.

Swanky Dietitian January 7, 2013 at 3:52 pm

Thanks for the tweet! I saw it this morning! :)

Jessie January 7, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Fantastic post, Kristen! I could have used these when I was in college :) Once I became interested in nutrition, I unconsciously started making plates like MyPlate – it would have been nice to start that earlier.

Have a great week!

Swanky Dietitian January 8, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Ha, I agree!!! It would have been much more helpful!

Katie @ Balanced RD January 8, 2013 at 8:40 pm

This is a great post! I definitely did not have ideal eating habits in college. It got better and better the further I got in my nutrition degree though! haha

Biz January 8, 2013 at 9:46 pm

I played field hockey in college in the fall, and all of our meals were prepared for us (there was a special athlete dining hall). It wasn’t until the second semester that I was on my own that I gained 15 pounds – all you can eat Lucky Charms?!! Hells yes!

Great post!!

Swanky Dietitian January 9, 2013 at 5:13 pm

That was me! All these delicious foods (and loads of sugar cereals ;) ) I had never had much! It was too good to pass up..well at the time!

thehealthyapron January 9, 2013 at 1:22 am

great tips! I definitely had my side of indulgence in the college years (late night snack bar..HELLO)! But I eventually figured it out (the more nutrition courses I took). If anything, I would just tell college students to EXERCISE. Avoid the trams and WALK, hit the “FREE” rec center (that you are paying for), and TAKE ThE STAIRS!

Tanya @ Dine, Dash, and Deadlift January 10, 2013 at 1:48 am

Eating in college was never really a huge challenge for me (although my cooking skills were very minimal when I first moved off campus sophomore year!). Sure I had my raids at the all-you-can eat dessert table, some late night pizza, more alcohol than necessary now and again but since I was a D1 athlete those were few and far between. Also, working out for 3+ hours a day, I could get away with it weight wise when it happened. I struggle a LOT more now in the real world since I can’t exercise as much as I once did.

I can understand you going back to Vegas instead of staying in Reno. I played against UNR once and UNLV was in my conference so we went there a lot. Much bigger fan of Las Vegas myself! :-)

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