Navigating the College Cafeteria

I had the privilege of coaching some college athletes over the summer.  They were happy with our work together, but worried about how to keep up their new healthy eating habits in the college cafeteria.  Here are my quick tips:

  1. Don’t head straight for the line! Take a breath and ask yourself, “How can I nourish myself?” This question serves you better than, “What is there to eat?”
  2. Walk around and ask what’s at the salad bar? Pasta bar? Main and side dishes? Even check the dessert bar for granola, nuts, and seeds.
  3. Use the available foods creatively to make your own meal that fuels your brain and body. Seek plants!
  4. Breakfast ideas: Oatmeal- stir in berries, nuts, cinnamon Yogurt parfait- choose Greek to punch up the protein and add fruit, berries, nuts, and cinnamon Cereal- increase the nutrient density by avoiding artificial colors and added sugars while choosing plain Cheerios or granola and adding fruit, berries, nuts, and seeds Pancakes or waffles- choose just one instead of a stack and add yogurt to the top with (you guessed it) fruit and berries
  5. Snack ideas- use a little creative thievery. Take an apple, banana, or orange to go. Bring a quart or gallon baggie and make your own trail mix using the breakfast and/or dessert bar. Pour in whole grain cereal or granola, dried fruit, nuts, seeds, a (few) pretzels for salty balance, and some (few) chocolate chips or M&M’s
  6. Lunch- again, walk around and see what is available and treat offerings like ingredients. Doing a colorful basic salad is a great choice, but you may lose interest some days. Take broccoli, cauliflower, spinach, etc. and microwave to “al dente.” Stir into ½ cup of pasta, rice, over baked potato, or quinoa (yes, they got the memo.) Add a bit of dressing and you have a nice dish! Put a bunch of veggies in a bowl and pour soup over it for phytonutrient power. Chili today? Make a taco salad and pour some chili over it for a Mexican treat. Make your own bruschetta! Pop some bread in the toaster. While you wait for toast, get tomatoes in a bowl and go for the salad herb area. Stir olive oil, garlic, basil, and a dash of Parmesan in with the tomatoes (cut them up a bit). Spread the mixture over the now complete toast- Yum!
  7. Dinner- use the same creative ideas. Use the healthy plate reference to remind yourself of proportion. Half your plate is vegetables, ¼ lean protein (fish, beans, quinoa, grilled chicken), ¼ whole grain or starchy vegetable like sweet potato, squash, beets, or baked potato (with skin).
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