Timeless Tips for
Healthy Eating in College

Healthy eating in college is possible!

If you have concerns about gaining the dreaded "freshman fifteen," review the information on freshman weight gain and
how to avoid the Freshman 15 now.

Allow me to share my professional advice and experience as a registered dietitian to make healthy eating in college just a bit easier:

Healthy Eating at College: Use Your Dining Card in Smart Ways

Use your all-you-can-eat dining card to purchase healthy foods from the cafeteria that you can stock in your dorm room or apartment:

  • Instant packets of oatmeal
  • Individual boxes of breakfast cereal
  • Mini cracker packets
  • Individual packets of peanut butter and jelly
  • Whole fresh fruit
  • Sliced bread or pitas
  • Container of crunchy crudités (celery, carrots, cucumber, bell peppers,etc.) to crunch on while studying
  • Bean Soup or Veggie Soup: Fill a hot drink container with a tight fitting lid and so you can reheat and sip anytime of day.
  • Sandwich meats from the deli
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Nonfat or lowfat yogurt
  • Individual cartons of fat free (skim) milk
  • Individual containers of fat free or lowfat cottage cheese
  • String cheese

Note: Think of this as "weekly shopping" and set aside some time on the weekend to take an empty backpack to the student union so you can stock up on these items and carry them back to your room for storage. Alternatively, walk or ride your bike to a nearby grocery store and make a regular shopping trip for these foods.

Healthy Eating in College: Eat Intentionally, not Accidentally.

It's not uncommon to fall victim to haphazard eating when you're in college due to new found freedom, erratic class schedules, and the influence of your friends.

So eat at regular, planned meal times:
  • Eat within 1 hour after waking up.
  • Eat every 3-4 hours thereafter.
If you've stocked up on the healthy foods above, simply throw a few in your backpack if you know you'll be away from home at your planned meal times so you never miss a meal.

Healthy Eating in College: Manage Cafeteria Eating

Cafeteria meals are dangerous because they're the equivalent of eating at an all-you-can eat buffet.

  • Ditch the cafeteria tray. With a tray it's possible to load up a dinner plate, salad plate, dessert plate or two, plus a beverage. Stick with the plate only and eat only the amount that will fit on the plate.
  • Know what healthy food you'll eat ahead of time and beeline for it, avoiding other temptations.
  • If you "hang out" in the cafeteria, create a defined ending to your mealtime such as brushing your teeth, eating a breath mint, or chewing gum. It's like drawing a line in the sand that says, "OK, eating time is over now, despite the fact we're still sitting here in the cafeteria."
  • Go back for dessert. Instead of deciding at the start of a meal that you're going to have dessert, wait until you finish. You may find that you no longer want it, or the trouble of having to go through the line a second time isn't worth it.

Healthy Eating in College: Smart Salad Bar

Seemingly innocent salad can be the calorie equivalent of a Big Mac and fries if you're not careful.

Use my "stoplight" guidelines for building a healthy salad from the salad bar:

  • Green Light (5-25 calories per 1/4 cup or 1 heaping serving spoonful):
    • artichoke hearts
    • beets
    • bell pepper strips
    • broccoli
    • cabbage
    • carrots
    • celery
    • cherry tomatoes
    • cucumbers
    • hearts of palm
    • mushrooms
    • onions
    • pea pods
    • radishes
    • spinach
    • squash, green or yellow
    • tomatoes
  • Yellow light(25-50 calories per 1/4 cup or 1 heaping serving spoonful):
    • baby corn
    • bean salad
    • corn
    • garbanzo beans
    • kidney beans
    • peas
  • Red light (more than 50 calories per 1/4 cup or 1 heaping serving spoonful):
    • olives
    • potato salad
    • chopped egg
    • pasta salad
    • tuna salad
    • imitation crab salad
    • shredded cheese
    • feta cheese
    • bacon bits
    • nuts and seeds (note: these are high in calories, yet "good for you," so use only a sprinkling

Add a Protein Source to Make Salad an Entree:

  • cottage cheese
  • eggs
  • garbanzo beans (chick peas)
  • tuna
  • tofu
  • turkey

Salad dressing:

  • Use unlimited amounts of balsamic vinegar, salsa, lemon juice or lime juice.
  • Use oil and vinaigrette sparingly. (Serve in a dish on the side and "dip your fork.")
  • Try to avoid creamy dressings like Caesar, Ranch, and Blue Cheese.
  • Opt for nonfat dressings when available.

Healthy Eating in College: Smart Meal Choices


  • English muffin + p.b. + small carton OJ
  • Nonfat/lowfat yogurt + fruit
  • Instant oatmeal + small box raisins + carton skim milk
  • Hard boiled egg + apple
  • String cheese + apple
  • Nonfat/lowfat cottage cheese + small carton OJ
  • English muffin + slice of cheese + apple
  • Cereal bar + 1 carton skim milk

Lunch or Dinner

  • Turkey, roast beef or grilled chicken sandwich + baby carrot sticks
  • Peanut butter and banana sandwich
  • Healthy salad bar (see above)
  • Bean soup
  • Vegetarian chili
  • Baked Potato stuffed with broccoli and small amount of cheese or cottage cheese
  • Grilled or broiled chicken or fish + baked potato + salad
  • Thin crust vegetable pizza + salad
  • Veggie stir fry over brown rice
  • Veggie burger
  • Turkey burger


  • air popped popcorn
  • fresh fruit
  • hard boiled egg
  • instant oatmeal
  • lowfat cottage cheese
  • lowfat string cheese
  • lowfat yogurt
  • mini packets of crackers/graham crackers
  • mini box of breakfast cereal
  • fresh "finger" fruit and vegetables:
    • baby carrots
    • cherry tomatoes
    • grapes
    • snap peas

Healthy Eating in College: Basic Healthy Eating Principles

  • Commit to eating at least one fruit and/or vegetable at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
  • Eat at least 2 food groups at a meal or snack. (Pasta and bread is an all starch meal!)
  • Include a source of protein with most meals and snacks:
    • yogurt
    • milk
    • eggs
    • cheese
    • chicken
    • turkey
    • fish
    • meat
    • beans
    • tofu

Other Smart Ideas

  • Check your weight or try on your favorite pair of jeans weekly and notice any trends.
  • Keep a Food Journal

Healthy Eating in College: Avoid Freshman Weight Gain

Read Freshman 15 stories

More of my professional advice you may find helpful:

Free Weight Loss Help

More Healthy Eating

Quick Meals

Your Personal Nutrition Guide Home Page