Learn how to avoid the freshman 15 and make healthy choices in your college cafeteria!

My little brother, who is a senior in college, stayed with me this past summer. I was doing all of the grocery shopping and cooking, so unless he ate out, he was eating my healthy clean food. Although I didn’t cook as much as he would have liked, he quickly became accustomed to my clean meals – his favorite breakfast was collared greens with a fried egg and sliced tomatoes and he loved my zoodles with turkey meatballs.

After two months, he was packing up and heading back to school, leaving me and my zoodles behind. After a few weeks on campus, he called me complaining about his diet. He felt so much better when he was eating healthy, but he had no plans of cooking, despite the fully functional kitchen in his apartment. I wanted to be able to help him make healthy choices in college, so here are my 5 foolproof ways to eat healthy, even in the cafeteria!

Avoid fried foods.

Most college cafeterias have a fried food section. This would be your French fry, chicken tender, and chicken nugget section. If your cafeteria has this section, avoid it. Fried foods have high fat and calorie content which increases your risk for numerous health problems, including obesity, stroke, and diabetes. You want your chicken to be grilled or baked, not fried.

Drink lots of water.

We need water, and lots of it. Our bodies rely on water to function properly, yet a lot of us are dehydrated. Grab water instead of soda (including diet), juice, energy drinks, or sport drinks. If you don’t like the taste of water, try to throw in some fruit.

If you changed nothing else in your diet, but tripled your water intake, you would shed unwanted weight quickly and see an increase in your energy levels. Another bonus is that water is one of the best ways to avoid a hangover. Try to drink at least 64oz of water before you drink alcohol; trust me, your body will thank you later.


Eat real food.

Real food grows out of the ground or on a tree; it isn’t created in a lab or genetically modified. It is food that is harvested, farmed, picked, or raised. You want to try to eat as much of your food in its original form as possible. So eat an apple instead of apple sauce, a potato instead of a French fry, or an orange instead of drinking orange juice. Your diet should consist of vegetables, fruits, high quality lean meats, legumes (beans), nuts, and whole grains.

The good news, most of the food that is being served to you in a traditional cafeteria setting is going to be real food. The bad news, the fast food joints in your student center do not serve real food, and unfortunately this is what most students gravitate towards. Simply making the switch from eating fast food to your school cafeteria will make a big difference in your over all health. And if you are like me, stay away from the waffle iron!

Avoid processed foods.

Processed food, generally speaking, is anything in a box, bag, or a can. These are things that you might buy out of a vending machine or a gas station. If something does come packaged, it shouldn’t have more than 5 ingredients and you should recognize (and know how to pronounce) all of the words.

Another good little test, is you should know the real food that something packaged came from. What is an Oreo? Or a pop-tart? What real food was that made from? They are chemicals, mixed with sugar, and color dye. They have zero nutritional value; it’s actually not food.

Most college students do not keep regular hours and are up at all crazy times of the night. When you studying and stressed, it is easy to grab a bag of chips or a candy bar. To decrease your chances of doing this, try to keep healthy snacks in your room – nuts, popcorn, fruit, hummus and veggies. Having the right food around you, makes it a little be easier to say no to the wrong foods.

Related: 10 must have snacks for your college dorm room

Do not count.

Do not worry about counting calories, carbohydrates, fat, or anything else for that matter. For starters, I do not want you eating packaged food, so getting the nutritional facts should be difficult for an orange or a grape anyway.

People spend too much time counting calories instead of worrying about the quality of the calorie. In college, you want to create good habits. You should recognize what good and healthy food looks like. I do not want you to focus on how much you eat, but what you are eating. Just eat real food, listen to your body and live a healthy and full life!

IMG_2853Kristian Henderson-Hayes, MPH is a wellness coach, fitness instructor, and health guru and blogger. She graduated from Yale University with a Bachelors degree and a Master’s degree in Public Health and she is currently working on a Doctorate in Public Health from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. Kristian takes a holistic approach to health and is passionate about all things food, fitness, and health. You can find her blogging at Eat.Live.Fit.


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