If you have a college student meal plan, then you know the struggle of dining hall food. Sure, not having to cook the food or clean dishes is great, but you have to choose what to eat from what is offered. At first it may seem like there are endless options, but after a while you will realize that they often provide the same kinds of food over and over again, easily allowing you to get into a habitual eating pattern that may not be the healthiest option. The Freshman 15 is not a myth.
Try to become more aware of what you are eating at your next dining hall visit. Here are six foods that I recommend you avoid for the following reasons:
1. Fried Food
Although fried food can taste good, and it may be in abundance at the dining hall, it doesn’t have any nutritional value so try avoiding it if you can. Did you know a grilled chicken sandwich has about 420 calories and 10 grams of fat compared to a fried chicken sandwich that has about 530 calories and 20 grams of fat? That extra breaded layer really does add up. Typically anything breaded or crispy is fried and should be eaten in moderation.
Some sauces can have up to 40% of your daily recommended sodium intake in just one serving (and by the way, one serving is often the size of one scoop from a spoon). And how many of us can honestly say we measure out the serving size before dumping BBQ sauce on a steak and cheese or the teriyaki sauce before drizzling it over some rice? Sauces may make something taste better, but they are a source of hidden calories and often can take away the health benefits of food without it.
3. Salad Toppings
Salad is great. It has lots of vegetables and a minimal amount of fat, but the taste can be so bland for most people. If you’re just starting to eat salads or want to trim down the fat in yours, consider avoiding toppings like bacon bits, excessive cheese, croutons, and creamy dressing. Using an oil-based dressing will spread more easily and cover up more leafy greens, tricking you into using less.
4. Processed Foods
Most processed foods like chips, pre-made desserts, and even some breads/wraps can have high fat content and may even contain trans fats, which are much worse than saturated fats and is something you never want to consume. Essentially, trans fats can slow down brain function by disrupting communication between brain cells. They also contribute to cardiovascular disease. If you have access to nutritional labels (which is not always the case in a dining hall where the food is prepared for you), look for words like “partially hydrogenated oils” and stay away from them. It is the one “food” that experts say is not okay at all even in moderation with one source saying it’s more like plastic than food.
5. Soft Drinks
If you haven’t seen the graphic of how your body reacts to a can of coke within one hour, I highly suggest you check it out. Soft drinks contain extremely high amounts of sugar, which your liver will be straining to keep up with and turning it all into fat. Any nutritional value that could possibly come from a soda is flushed out of your system by the caffeine’s diuretic properties.
6. The Same Thing All The Time
Once you have been in school for a couple months, you may notice that dining halls operate on a set schedule. They often offer up some types of food on one day and others on different days, but the schedule does not vary wildly. Though this makes it easier to serve a large student body consistently, it also makes it easy for the student to fall into a habit of eating the same foods every time. For example, there were many meals in any given week when they were serving food I didn’t like or didn’t think I’d like. My initial response was always to just go get a couple slices of pizza. It’s important to balance your meals, and just eating pizza all the time is not that; despite whatever toppings are on there. Don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things at the dining hall. You may find that you actually really enjoy healthier options that you wouldn’t normally consider.
This is not meant to be a strict nutritional guide, but to make you aware of your eating habits. Don’t be afraid to ask one of the employees at the dining hall for nutrition information on any and all food being served in order to better plan out your meals. You have to remember that you’re in control of what you put into your body.