Food Q&A: College Cafeteria Choices

Finding healthy, tasty eats at the university dining hall is possible, with a little creativity and these helpful tips.
Food Q And A College Cafeteria Choices

Need ideas for coping with restaurant buffets? Want some good snack ideas? In our Q&A series, nutritionist and food editor Leslie Fink, MS, RD, answers questions about food, nutrition and weight loss.

Q: I'm a college student. I know that I can lose weight while I'm home, but I'm afraid that once I return to the dorms, I'll gain all of the weight back from the cafeteria food! Any suggestions?

A: At first glance, the cafeteria might seem like a dieter's worst nightmare—cooked vegetables drowning in butter, main dishes that are heavy on cheese and meat, and an all-you-can-eat dessert bar. But if you take a look between the "lines," there are many healthier, weight loss-friendly options available.

Some are obvious—like a turkey sandwich on rye—while others require a bit more creativity. In fact, I often mixed and matched ingredients from my college cafeteria's salad bar, deli bar, make-your-own potato bar and make-your-own stir-fry station to create tasty, nutritious meals. Here are a few of my tried-and-true recommendations:

Bean & Cheese Quesadilla. Top half a large tortilla with beans, diced tomatoes, chopped onions, salsa and a bit of shredded low-fat cheese or a slice or two of low-fat cheese. Fold in half, microwave until warm and enjoy.

Pasta Primavera. Microwave broccoli and mushrooms until warm. Combine with plain cooked pasta and tomato sauce; microwave until warm and sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese.

Mexican Spud. Top a plain baked potato with mixed raw veggies, salsa and shredded low-fat cheese, or a slice or two of low-fat cheese. Microwave until heated through and the cheese is melted.

Super Salad. Combine mixed greens with tons of raw veggies (carrots, peppers, tomatoes, beets, etc.), torn turkey-breast slices or cubed tofu, beans (make sure they're not swimming in oil) and a splash of a reduced-calorie dressing. Top with a teaspoon or two of sunflower seeds for a bit of crunch, and toss. No low-calorie dressings available? Make your own: Try three parts vinegar to one part oil and then season to taste with salt and pepper.

Snacks on the Go. Grab an apple, pear, orange—whatever is available—for dessert and for snacks later in the day. Load up on raw vegetable sticks from the salad bar for snacks, too. (Keep some small zip-close plastic bags in your knapsack.)

Two last issues to consider: Does your college have a fast food restaurant on campus? If so, low-fat subs are an easy option. Also, beware of lingering for hours in the cafeteria between classes—more temptations lurk that way (that's how I put on 15 pounds my freshman year!). So eat, socialize between bites, then take a stroll around campus to chat with your friends.

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