Girl works at a computer and eats fast food. Unhealthy food: chips, crackers, candy, waffles, cola. Junk food, concept.

(© Juliaap -

By now, college students are settling into the day-to-day of the current academic year. For a lot of young adults, moving away to college brings tons of new life experiences, such as new friends and new responsibilities. Also, chances are that mom’s dinner isn’t on the table every night. Finding a new groove with food and trying to eat healthily while in college is another (often overlooked) hurdle that many students have to get used to. As such, you might be wondering how to prioritize a healthy diet in college, all while adjusting to everything else in this newly independent life.

The good news is that most colleges provide an incredible array of healthy meal options daily at the dining halls. Typically if you’re in your early years of college, you’ll have a meal plan that allows you access to the halls on a daily basis. A lot of colleges offer the option to have a meal plan for your entire time as a student, but many upperclassmen prefer not to utilize them and instead go shopping for their own groceries. If you’re on a meal plan, here’s some tips:

1. Get in the groove of a mealtime routine 

In the hustle and bustle, it can be easy to forget basic self-care in college. While studying hard and making time for friends is important, not neglecting your nutrition is equally vital. Try to plan out your mealtimes around your class schedule as best as possible, as oftentimes there are breaks where it’s possible to slip away to the dining hall before the next class. Even if you can’t make it to the dining hall on an especially unpredictable day, chances are your campus has easy “grab and go” options around.

woman sitting by the table reading book while eating noodles
Photo by No Revisions from Unsplash

2. Walk around the dining hall before getting in line 

Usually, dining halls separated into stations will serve similar foods every day. Take a moment and look around at what is being served on a given day and try to pick up a new fruit or vegetable, as it’s important to keep your diet diversified with lots of colors and varied nutrient content.

Fruit section of grocery store
Photo by Alexander Gamanyuk on Unsplash

3. Start your day with protein

It’s easiest to grab a bagel, muffin, or a quick bowl of cereal for breakfast. While this is probably the most convenient option, it isn’t going to be the most fueling. Starting the day with only quick carbs and hardly any protein or fat to keep blood sugar stable isn’t the best idea. If you love your morning bagel or cereal, try pairing it with eggs, breakfast meat, and fruit to up the protein substantially and make it a more balanced meal.

4. Build a well-rounded plate

Tying into the last point, eating a versatile plate will help to keep your body feeling good after every meal, and your mind ready to crush the next exam. Try to make half of your plate full of veggies, a quarter of protein, and the last quarter with a fiber-filled carb. This could look like a half plate of a vegetable medley or a bit of multiple different vegetables from various stations, a quarter of a roasted chicken, and finishing the plate with sweet potatoes.

5. Stay hydrated 

Keep a reusable water bottle with you often. Chances are you’re walking a lot, especially if you are on a large campus. At the dining hall, you’ll likely be tempted to fill up on the different juices and fountain sodas. While these are fine every once in a while, going for them every time can harm your health and make you more sluggish. It’s better to fill up at the water station more often than anywhere else. If you want to make the H2O a little more exciting, try switching things up with sparkling water or adding fruit.

As a reminder, it’s very understandable that every day can be unpredictable. So you may not be able to check off all the boxes. Other times, you might just want to eat pizza with friends without worry. That’s okay too! It’s most important to build sustainable habits beyond this so that you can fuel yourself through the adventurous college experience.

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About Shyla Cadogan, RD

Shyla Cadogan is a DMV-Based acute care Registered Dietitian. She holds specialized interests in integrative nutrition and communicating nutrition concepts in a nuanced, approachable way.

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1 Comment

  1. Susan W Smelter says:

    What about the Maltese? I had a 3 pound baby that gave nothing but love, affection, and pleasure for 16 years.