Blog Archives

6 Healthy Tips for Navigating Campus Dining

A few months ago, I was asked to write an article for another blog that related to health and fitness in college. I came up with “6 Healthy Tips for Navigating Campus Dining” and now I’m sharing it on my own blog because it’s perfect for the back-to-school season! A Monday seems like the best time to give ourselves some healthy reminders, especially if you had a particularly splurgey (<– new word!) weekend. Which, hello, it’s COLLEGE FOOTBALL SEASON, so it’s understandable. ;)

6 Healthy Tips for Navigating Campus Dining

By: Kenzie Estes of

I remember my first dinner in the campus dining hall my freshman year of college. It was called “The Hot Spot” and the buffet of food was completely overwhelming. My eyes widened as I tried to take in the wall-to-wall counters of food lined with a salad and sandwich bar, pastas and pizzas, stick-to-your-ribs mashed potatoes and gravy, Asian stir fry bowls, and everything in between. Freshly baked cookies under vanilla soft-serve would have made the “Freshman 15” a very real experience had I not been so devoted to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

Easter Girls with Space Filter

Nutrition is particularly important to me in college because I was recruited to my university’s NCAA Division 1 Track and Cross Country team. Even without my athlete status, continuing to make healthy choices in school is incredibly important to thrive in your new environment with the stress and workload that comes with being a student.

Nutrition 101A healthy transition from home-cooked meals to campus dining requires some effort. Here are six tips that I find helpful for navigating through the dining hall:

1.) Leave the “Get My Money’s Worth” mentality outside.

Buffets and their unlimited offering can invoke a mental need to get the most bang for your buck, which has more to do with quantity than nutritional quality. Focus on building a plate that is full of color and nutrition. If you have a difficult time choosing your meal, remember that everything will be there again tomorrow!

Green Leaf Pizza (

2.) Pre-plan your plate.

Have some sort of idea of what you are craving before you enter the dining hall to avoid having to examine all of the food. Without a plan for your meal, you might end up “sampling” a little bit of everything (been there, done that) which can add up to more calories than you realize.

3.) Pick one splurge meal each week.

It’s also important to note that it is not healthy to completely deprive yourself of the ice cream station or cookie cart either. If you occasionally treat yourself to something indulgent or plan a “cheat meal,” you are likely to stay on track with your health goals.


4.) Use entrée plates as a base & add to it.

Oftentimes buffets offer a variety of pastas, pizzas, sandwiches and soups because they are widely popular and simple to feed the masses. One of my favorite ways to pack a nutritional punch in cafeteria meals is to grab fresh vegetables or salad bar ingredients and mix them into the pre-served entrees. Stir a handful of spinach and carrots into a bowl of soup, and tomatoes and bell peppers into a plate of pasta. Cut up an apple over a salad or slice a banana into your oatmeal or cereal.

Hearty Healthy Harvest Soup

5.) Be picky.

Don’t eat something just because it’s there. Be selective with what you put in your body! If it’s not amazing…skip it.

6.) DON’T be afraid to bring your own ingredients!

A friend of mine has a bag of chia and flax seeds in her purse to add to oatmeal or cereal. Many times I’ll bring in Quest protein powder and a shaker to mix with almond milk. Salsa, pepper and liquid amino acids can spice up any dish if your campus’s cooking is particularly bland. And of course I always have my own powdered coffee creamer.

Cafeteria Cuisine Breakfast Bowl

Brunch in the Hot Spot was always my favorite way to start a Sunday morning. Everyone comes in their pajamas, some bring notes to study, some just talk with friends. Everyone cozily enjoys their omelets and coffees before Monday kicks in. With a little effort, your college dining experience can be fun and healthy.

Conference Team Dinner (