On Tuesday, August 21, thousands of incoming CU freshmen will descend upon Boulder as they move into their dorms. Next to their anxiety about roommate matchups, first classes, and being away from home is the daunting prospect of gaining the dreaded “Freshman 15.” Without personal kitchens, most freshmen are forced to eat at freshman dining halls. Navigating the dining halls, with its endless buffet of mystery meats, sketchy salads, and desserts can be difficult. Use these tips to not only avoid the Freshman 15, but also to maintain a healthy and nutritious diet during your first year away from home.
1. Stay away from dishes that are bathed in a thick, gooey sauce. These sauces are often very high in sodium, sugar, or fat and will contribute excess calories to your meal. A few entrees to be wary of: chicken teriyaki, curries, and fettucini alfredo.
2. At the salad bar, load up your plate with plenty of vegetables. Top it with high-fiber or high-protein mix-ins, like chickpeas, black beans, and edamame. Add a sprinkle of nuts of seeds — but keep it to a few teaspoons to keep calories in check. Your best bet for a salad dressing is olive oil and balsamic vinegar; stay away from high-fat, high-calorie ones like Ranch and Thousand Island, as well as fat-free dressings, which contain preservatives, fillers, excess sugars, and sodium.
3. Just because it’s part of the salad bar doesn’t make it healthy. Meats like pepperoni and bacon bits, croutons, and mayonnaise-packed pasta salads all add tons of extra calories as well as unhealthy saturated fats to your meal.
4. Be cautious of pre-made wraps, burritos, tacos, and sandwiches. They’re often stuffed with unhealthy ingredients (think huge slathers of mayonnaise or sour cream, cheese, and trios of processed lunch meats); and because you can’t see what’s in them, you’ll have no idea what you’re eating. Head to the sandwich station and make your own wrap or sandwich; use whole grain bread and fill it with lean protein and plenty of vegetables.
5. Mix and match items from around the cafeteria. For example, ask for a plain grilled chicken breast and add it to mixed greens to make a grilled chicken salad. Bulk up chicken noodle soup by adding white beans and greens from the salad bar. Or make a stir-fry with steamed vegetables, chicken and soy sauce.
6. Introduce yourself to the kitchen staff. A few words of thanks and just showing your appreciation may make them more receptive to personal requests. Plain chicken breasts and fish fillets — without the sauces that are being served on that particular day — can be transformed into healthy meals when you add in complex carbohydrates and vegetables. They may even make meals-to-order as you get to know them!
7. At breakfast, load up a plate of vegetables from the salad bar, bring it to the kitchen, and (politely!) ask for an omelette. Combining protein and fiber in the morning will give you lasting energy until lunch, and you’ll get a few servings of vegetables out of the way!
8. Bring spices, dried herbs, and sauces to the dining hall to spice up meals. Add cinnamon to oatmeal, and sprinkle herbs and spices like thyme, rosemary and cumin on chicken breasts or basil and oregano to pasta sauces. If you have a refrigerator, your options are endless: bring hummus to use as a dip or sandwich spread; pesto for sandwiches or pasta; or soy sauce or hot sauce just about anything. You can also bring in your own salad dressing, as those at the salad bar might not be the most nutritious.
9. Don’t treat the dining hall as an endless buffet — you’ll just keep going back for seconds, thirds, and fourths! Treat it like restaurant, in which you only get one meal. You’ll be more apt to choose a balanced meal of lean protein, complex carbohydrates and vegetables instead of filling up on French fries and pasta and then going back for more nutritious items. Scan all of your options first (or look up the menu beforehand online — you can also look up nutrition information!) and then choose what you’re going to have for dinner. You’ll be less likely to go back for tempting seconds.
10. If there’s nothing on the menu that tempts your taste buds on a particular day, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a salad on the side is always a healthy fallback. Make it with whole grain bread, and to reduce sugar and bump up fiber, replace jelly with apple or banana slices.