National Nutrition Month: Tips for Eating Smart in the Dining Halls

By Anne Widga, University Health Center dietitian

Making healthy choices can be challenging when facing a buffet of foods at the dining halls. It’s tempting to go back for second or even third helpings, and of course, the dessert bar always looks delicious! If you aren’t careful, things can get out of hand quickly, which can lead to unbalanced nutrition or unwanted weight gain.

Here are a few ways to make smart eating choices on campus:

  1. Make a plan before you eat. Use the UNL Dining Services phone app or website to discover what food is being served in which dining halls or scope out the food when you arrive. Before filling up your plate, pause for a moment to consider your hunger level and what you’ve already eaten for the day.
  2. Get to know the dining hall staff. If you have a food allergy or intolerance or are someone who needs a specific nutrition plan to manage a health condition, these friendly folks can be your best resource. They can answer your questions, save you time and minimize your frustration when choosing what to eat.
  3. Follow the MyPlate model. You need foods from each food group (fruits, veggies, dairy, grains, healthy fats and protein) every day to give your body the nutrients it needs to function effectively. This might mean a trip to more than one area in the dining hall, but it’s worth it.
  4. Take advantage of the salad bar. Eating fruit and vegetables daily is important, and the salad bar can be a great place to stock up. Try different types of greens and other veggies for variety. Add a source of protein (eggs, ham, chicken, tofu, etc.) to make it a complete meal. Adding a single serving of fat such as salad dressing, cheese or sunflower seeds will help slow the salad’s digestion to keep you feeling full and satisfied longer.
  5. Don’t be afraid to try new things. If dining hall food is becoming boring or monotonous to you, add some variety by going to a different dining hall or trying a new menu item for the first time. Your tastes are continuously evolving, so you might discover you like a food you once hated.
  6. Eat breakfast. Skipping breakfast—or any meal for that matter—can sabotage your success. You won’t think as clearly or fully absorb what you learn in class if you don’t eat.It can also lower your blood sugar, which can lead to overeating and can negatively affect your mood. Breakfast doesn’t have to be huge. Keep it simple with a piece of toast, yogurt or milk and fruit.
  7. Make wise beverage choices. No one needs the added sugar found in sodas. A glass of water or milk is a better choice as is unsweetened coffee or tea in moderation.
  8. Limit your second helpings. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to know if you feel full or not, so eat slowly and mindfully. If you do this and still feel hungry, try to make your second helping a veggie or serving of protein. Not skipping meals also helps curb the tendency to overeat.
  9. Enjoy the moment. Don’t be afraid to pick a day — maybe once a week — when you know your favorite dessert or treat is being offered, and plan it into your meal. Never allowing yourself to indulge is unnecessary and can set you up for feelings of guilt when you do have one now and then. Try not to worry how many calories your meal is and whether dessert will ruin your diet. Look forward to your mealtime as a necessary diversion from studies and time to spend with friends.
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