It’s no secret…eating out is the fastest way to extra pounds, belly bloat, and reduced energy. Unfortunately, fast meals on campus are also the preferred method of food consumption by grad students all over. In my experience, its always better to prep your lunch and take it to campus (thanks…I know I’m great at stating the obvious!). However, if you’re running out the door with no time to spare, there are a few options that campuses across the country seem to offer. Stick to these choices and you’ll get a (fairly) healthy meal without breaking the bank–or your belt, for that matter.
1. Find a salad bar…stat!
This should always be your first option. Most college campuses have salad bars these days. However, beware the calorie-dense dressings and add-ons, like croutons or bacon bits. Instead, go for veggies, beans, nuts or seeds for added protein and healthy fats. Don’t forget to ask for the dressing on the side!
2. Go for pre-portioned, but calorie-friendly snacks throughout the day.
Because it’s difficult to find healthy lunch/dinner meal options on campus, I sometimes opt for a variety of snack-sized meals to get me through a long day on campus. More and more food halls are stocking easy to carry fruits like apples and bananas, as well as pre-portioned bags of baby carrots and other veggies for students to munch on in-between classes. And while your normal day-to-day diet should avoid packaged and processed foods, they are often the easiest (and most calorically friendly) option on campus. Avoid things like chips and pretzels that are full of sodium and empty carbs and instead grab a protein bar with at least 10 grams of protein in it. Also try a bag of almonds or dried fruit–just watch for added sugar and salt!
3. Avoid all “fast food” options.
And I’m not referring to speed of food delivery here. I mean, “fast food” in the traditional sense. Wendy’s, Panda Express, McDonald’s, you name it. Campuses across the country are opening their doors to some of the country’s fattiest food options. While often the cheapest and quickest option on campus, I promise you, you’ll immediately regret the decision as you start to feel weighed down and greasy during your afternoon class. Avoidance is the best policy.
4. Whatever you do, don’t eat the bread.
I don’t know what it is about the bread on college campuses, but they are the most calorie-dense slices you’ve ever tasted avoided. Whether it is a sandwich, burger, or other bread-encapsulated delight, I can almost guarantee that the bread is packing 300-400 extra calories that you’re adding on to your meal. Ask for your sandwich or burger protein style (between slices of lettuce) or toss one of the slices of bread for an open-faced meal.
5. Go for the tacos–just hold the cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.
Of all the options on college campuses, Mexican food is generally the easiest one to transform into a healthy meal. Usually focused on protein, veggies, and legumes, Mexican is an easy way to stay full without consuming too many calories. That is, of course, if you stick to eating Mexican food the traditional way–not the “Americanized” way. Traveling around Mexico, you’ll be hard pressed to find tacos, burritos, and your other faves in giant-sized portions or drenched in tons of greasy cheddar cheese. Even a beloved favorite like Nachos are actually an American creation! Let yourself have the tacos, filled with either grilled chicken or steak–carnitas and pork-options tend to be fattier. Swap the flour tortillas for corn, and feel free to use as many veggie toppings and salsas as your heart desires. Not only will the spiciness get your metabolism going, but you’ll stay energized without feeling weighed down!
Hugs, Kisses & Healthy Campus Pride,