What is the best way to go about a diet while in college?
January 25, 2007 10:43 PM   Subscribe

What is the best way to go about a diet while in college?

I live at college, and have a big dining package. I need to find a way to eat better here, but still use mainly my dining package to eat (not much extra cash.) I think we all know how unhealthy meals in the food court can be, so any suggestions???
posted by zacharyseibert to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You don't mention what you have at your disposal as far as cooking equipment, or budgetary concerns...
posted by mhuckaba at 10:59 PM on January 25, 2007

Ack. You do talk about budgetary concerns... strike that... what do you have to cook with?
posted by mhuckaba at 11:00 PM on January 25, 2007

I may be way out of bounds here (small liberal arts private college in the Pacific NW), but eat more salad. It's easy to reach over for the greasy mcgreasy burger and fries, and takes more thinking about what's going to be satisfying and good for you.
In two words - eat fresh, it's probably going to taste better.

For better answers, provide more information. What is your schedule like? Your meal plan and your dining package? What does that include, and what kind of options do you have?
The more information we have increases the likelihood of more helpful suggestions.
posted by lilithim at 11:05 PM on January 25, 2007

Response by poster: I have nothing to cook with, except a microwave. We can't have anything with open heat in our dorms. That's why I need to try to find a way to eat healthier using the meal plan.
posted by zacharyseibert at 11:06 PM on January 25, 2007

What is the food court like? National chains or typical dining hall slop? If it is the former is there a subway? Or some sandwich making option? If so perhaps you can try the Subway diet? I believe Jared was in college when he lost all the weight on it.
posted by necessitas at 11:06 PM on January 25, 2007

In an all-you-can-eat system, pace yourself. Only grab one plate of food at a time, because if you walk in hungry and grab everything, you'll feel compelled to finish it.
posted by lilithim at 11:10 PM on January 25, 2007

Unfortunately meal plans generally will not serve healthy food, butttt...

If you're concerned about calories, avoid:
Fried foods (corn dogs, chips, fried chicken, wontons)
Processed meat (hot dogs, sausage, breakfast sausage, ground beef)
Fatty Foods (cheesy stuff, white sauces, gravies)
Desserts in general

Eat instead:
Chicken, lean cuts of other meats, fish
Veggies with little to no adulteration
Beans, Lentils
Small amounts of grains

Don't get me started on breads. 1 slice of bread has over 100 calories. That is almost the same as a chicken breast. Which would you rather have, 3 grilled chicken breasts or 1 chicken breast on a sandwich? Same for wraps and similar bready products. Chips are even worse, if used for nachos you'll probably eat 4-500 calories. I take the chicken/fish whatever off the sandwich and eat it with everything else but the bun/bread.

For breakfast, eggs are OK in moderation because they fill you up, but avoid tons of cheese on omelets, or lots of bacon. If you get an omelet, try it with half whites and have diced ham instead of bacon. Make sure to load it up with veggies.

Just keep in mind, generally these places use the cheapest quality possible ingredients, and fatty=cheap. That means fatty: cottage cheese/yogurt/milk/cheeses, meats, soups, desserts.

Hope that helps.
posted by mhuckaba at 11:22 PM on January 25, 2007

Be aware, I found out my freshman year that the salads are treated in a chemical process to be more "healthy". This was mostly due to the high number of girls who would only eat the greens in the salads to keep their sickly figures.

I recommend sticking to meats and vegatables. Hit the gym regulary. Eat less more often. When you go to the dinning commons, bring ziplock bags and save some for later. 5 meals a day will balance you out a whole lot better then 3 and will keep you from snacking.

And be careful about your drinking habits, that by itself can wreck you something silly.
posted by Derek at 11:35 PM on January 25, 2007

There were lots of relevant good ideas in this previous thread.

It's all about the choices you make with what you have available. Don't just grab whatever, think about what you're going to eat and how to put things together in the way that works best for you. It'll be more work than if you were in total control, but you can do it. There will be advice here and in the previous thread about how, but it's that mindshift (i.e. thinking about what you eat rather than just eating everything that's served up) that will make this work for you.
posted by shelleycat at 11:53 PM on January 25, 2007

Exercise. You probably have a subsidised gym - use it. Walk everywhere. When I was at university the things I ate didn't change much (maybe got worse) but my exercise level went way up, and I ate less in total because I was finding more interesting things to do with my time (no boredom-eating).
posted by Leon at 2:07 AM on January 26, 2007

Eat small-ish portions, don't snack between scheduled feedings, and avoid super-greasy foods. Exercise. I guarantee you will see a difference in a month.
posted by rxrfrx at 5:03 AM on January 26, 2007

Best answer: Two suggestions no one's mentioned:

First, the student health center almost certainly has a nutritionist who'll be happy to work with you on planning your diet in a healthy, monitored way, and that person is also used to working with people bound by the dining hall's rules.

Second, what about talking to whatever liaisons exist between the students and the university's dining hall service providers (maybe it's contracted, maybe it's internal) to get all the awesome healthy food you crave? Petitions, meetings, committees? Get involved and make sure those carrot sticks or tempe or lentil soups are there more often!
posted by mdonley at 5:06 AM on January 26, 2007

Use your gym. I feel your dining hall pain.

Avoid fried foods. Avoid the burgers. If they have chicken breasts take off the skin, since if they bread it that's where most of the fat will be located. Learn to love the salad bar, and look up recipes for salads you can create at it. Check out the vegetarian options (if they serve them)--they are (sometimes) healthier than the meat-eater options.

Also, practice portion control! Portion control, portion control, portion control! Dining halls will likely give you larger portions than you need. Just don't eat all the food they give you.

And use Fitday or some similar online calorie-counting resource to track your intake and get a good idea of what's healthy and what's not. It can't provide the exact calorie content of what you're eating, but most of them have approximate nutritional information for general recipes.
posted by schroedinger at 5:12 AM on January 26, 2007

The Classic 1 000 Student Recipes has quite a lot of stuff you can make with just a knife, or just a knife and microwave, or just...&c.

Not diet-specific, but not unhealthy, either; it might be a good source of inspiration.

Having avoided the rez in my day, I don't know, but: can you pilfer ingredients from the dining halls? You know -- pile up a big plate of cottage cheese and take it back to your dorm to make something with?

I think my brother -- the recipient of the cookbook in question -- has given up on low-calorie and instead signed up for as much physical activity as possible on campus. Perhaps not a bad idea, if you have the time?
posted by kmennie at 5:16 AM on January 26, 2007

Most recipes that call for boiling or steaming (with the notable exception of boiled eggs) can be achieved in a microwave. Brown rice is cheap, filling, nutritious, microwave cookable, and makes a little highly-flavored greasy sauce go a long way, especially with a bit of low-fat yoghurt and some good soy sauce. Potatoes can be tossed straight in the microwave after getting slit around their waists to avoid explosions; they don't come out with crispy jackets like you'd get from a heat oven but they're still good. If you can buy corn on the cob with the leaves still on, microwave it leaves and all, give it a few minutes to stop steaming, then peel and eat with fresh ground black pepper. Other veggies can get microwaved in a covered dish with very little to no added water.
posted by flabdablet at 5:32 AM on January 26, 2007

Pick up some miso soup and use in lieu of popcorn/easy mac. It's not particularly filling but it's healthy, easy, cheap, doesn't go bad.

Stealing food is a totally good idea too. I do not think eating 5-14 times a week could ever be healthy. It is more fair to you to just steal the food than have to buy more, as the quality/price ratio sucks and everything gets thrown out end of day anyway. Plastic baggies > unbendable containers though
posted by shownomercy at 5:46 AM on January 26, 2007

I'm in a similar situation now and don't have any desire to purchase food in addition to the required meal plan (it cost more and I feel like I'm wasting money that's already been spent on the meal plan). I would suggest the following:

1) Salads (make sure you use low/non-fat dressing)
2) Grilled chicken. This has become my meat of choice. Most grills will make it for you if it's not available as a dish that night.
3) Deli Sandwiches. Most dining halls I've seen have a "deli bar" with some deli meats, bread, lettuce, tomatoes, etc.

It's not easy to eat well, but if you make dinners consist of one of the above along with the bland steamed vegetables they typically have, you'll do okay. Try to run and use the gym as much as possible because it will help your studying dramatically.
posted by null terminated at 7:22 AM on January 26, 2007

I'm a recent college grad, and I definitely fell victim to the high-calorie foods in the dining hall my first year. My best advice for eating healthfully is to get creative - combine foods in ways you might not think of at first. At the beginning of each quarter I would be really good, eating only salads and grilled chicken and veggies, but after two weeks of that I would be bored out of my mind and switch to pizza or a burger just to get some variety. Some of my favorite healthy ways to mix it up:

1) Fruit salad - instead of munching on plain fruit, chop up one banana, one apple, one orange, etc. and toss them in a large salad bowl with a little bit of yogurt. Delicious!

2) "Different" salads - instead of eating a typical cobb-style salad, try a fruit-and-walnut salad. One apple, a handful of nuts, and some lettuce tossed with oil & balsamic vinegar is tasty. Or put a chicken breast on a bed of lettuce with a light dash of cheese and some ceaser dressing. Or mix up some tomatoes with some chopped onions and some feta, then drizzle with oil.

3) Egg salad - if there are hard-boiled eggs at the salad bar, chop them up with a small bit of mayo and mustard.

4) Veggie sandwiches - most of the deil meat at my school was fatty and gross, but I got some more mileage out of the salad vegetables by putting them on bread (or rolling them in a wrap) with a little bit of hummus. Just another way to trick your body into thinking you're getting something new.

5) Vegetarian grilled "meat" - if you do feel the impulse to grab a burger, ask for the vegetarian alternative. At my school these were pretty tasty, and had less fat and calories than their low-grade meat alternatives.

6) Egg sandwich/egg bagel-sandwich - scrambled eggs on bread/bagel. Quick, easy, will keep you full 'till dinner.

The best way to think about the dining hall is to try to come up with ways to mix foods from different "stations" in new ways. Among my friends, this almost became a type of challenge, trying to come up with the most interesting and tasty alternatives to what was being offered up to us.

I am also a huge proponent of swiping food from the dining halls. Fruit - apples, especially - is easy to carry and makes a much better snack than the vending machine junk you will be tempted to buy in the middle of the night. Same goes for whole-wheat bagels (better than sugary cereal in the mornings) and chopped veggies (bring ziploc baggies or tupperware).
posted by CtrlAltDelete at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2007

ah, yes...college "cooking"
apples and peanut butter?
bonus: you can steal the apples from the cafeteria.
peanut butter has tons of protein (and the calories aren't too bad if you don't really pile it on, and they've got fortified and low fat versions and whatever.
You can basically steal all the fresh (?) fruit you can stuff in your backpack. (hey, if one of my dorm neighbors managed to get the life-sized Tony the Tiger cardboard cut-out from the cafeteria to his dorm room, you can pry swipe a bunch of bananas)
Kids also took their nalgene to the cafeteria and filled up with milk (skim) to keep in the minifridge and enjoy on their cheerios.
My school usually had some prepackaged grab-n-go fruit n' yogurt salads. regrettably, i usually chose the cookies and pizza... which i'm still trying to get rid of.
posted by Green Eyed Monster at 10:12 AM on January 26, 2007

Here's something easy I'm making later tonight...It's called a South Seas Salad. If you're worried about glycemic foods, this wouldn't be good, but it tastes wonderful and is pretty healthy:

Put one cup rice, 2 cups water, 1 tbs. marge/butter, and some salt into glass dish. Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 10-15. Uncover and zap for another 10 minutes. Fluff. Then chop up one whole mango and one small red onion and add to rice. Add some crushed cashews and mix with a few tbs. of bottled fish sauce (mine is called Thai Kitchen Premium Fish Sauce, available in the Asian section).

This is dinner for me. It's so yummy.
posted by frosty_hut at 3:00 PM on January 26, 2007

Thanks for the question; I'll be the liaison between the kitchens and the students this coming semester, and I too am concerned about healthy eating in the halls, so this is good advice!

Seconding suggestions for communal cooking...also, if you can, talk to the kitchens about your concerns. That, or the house manager (whoever manages your dorms). They should be able to help.
posted by divabat at 12:12 AM on January 27, 2007

It's been mentioned in passing a couple of times, but I will mention it specifically: whatever your dining hall situation, however many corn dogs and steak burgers they are offering, there are vegetarian options which are generally quite healthy. Even my little tiny college always had beens & rice and noodles with red sauce. Add salads, vegetables, and fruits on the side.
posted by hydropsyche at 5:18 AM on January 27, 2007

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