Navigate the College Cafeteria and Stores to Eat Healthy

Learn how to eat healthy as a student athlete with tips for navigating the school cafeteria from STACK expert Jim Carpentier.

Cafeteria Nutrition

Eating healthy can be tricky during your first semester at college. You're away from the comfort of home cooking, juggling academics and sports; and sticking to a healthy dietary routine in the dorm cafeteria is challenging, even for student-athletes. (Score a place with your own kitchen? Recipes to get you started!)

The campus cafeteria and on-campus stores offer a wide array of food and beverage choices, but not all of them are healthy. It takes willpower to be a wise consumer and select only nutritious items. Plus, sometimes none of the available options are actually healthy.

Navigate the campus and dorm cafeterias with the following food and beverage guidelines. You will not only improve your energy and boost your immune system, you will also optimize your mental and physical skills for prime performance both on and off the field.

  1. Choose baked, grilled or broiled meats, fish and veggies instead of fried. Fried foods generally are higher in calories and are harder to digest.
  2. Avoid creamy salad dressings and sauces. Many college students head straight to the salad bar and call it a day. But although they have a heaping plate of veggies, if they cover it with fattening dressing and toss in croutons, cheese and bacon, they have a caloric mess. The same rules apply for condiments like mayo and honey mustard on a grilled chicken sandwich. Instead, opt for heart-healthy olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice mixed with olive oil. Olive oil and lemon juice have beneficial antioxidants and anti-inflammatory nutrients that promote recovery after sports and workouts.
  3. Drink healthy beverages for sports and exercise recovery. Avoid the soda machine and choose bottled water, protein-rich plain or chocolate milk and black or green tea. Water aids digestion and hydration, boosts metabolism, helps transport nutrients to your muscles, and enhances recovery between workouts and games. Water is also energizing, so keep the water bottle handy to remain alert in the classroom and on the field. Like water, black or green tea energizes you, revs up your metabolism to enhance fat burning, and delivers antioxidants and anti-inflammatory substances to speed recovery. Protein-rich plain or chocolate milk builds muscle and has bone-building calcium. Strong bones are especially needed in contact sports! Powdered milk mixed with water is another alternative. Avoid soda and sugary juices, as they are high in calories, cause tooth decay and are linked to obesity.
  4. Select foods in their natural state. The cafeteria and campus stores are full of fruits, veggies, nuts and seeds, olives, beans and whole grains like oatmeal—all of which contain vitamins, minerals, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds. Nuts, seeds and beans also have muscle-building protein and heart-friendly essential fatty acids. Some fruits, such as blueberries, aid memory, so have a handful before a big test or when you need to remember plays during practices and games.
  5. Eat protein-rich hard-boiled eggs and canned fish. Eggs are inexpensive and easy to prepare. You can usually find hard-boiled eggs at the salad bar too. Canned fish, such as tuna, salmon and sardines, delivers muscle-building protein, promotes memory and contains omega-3 heart-protective fats.

Check out more tips for eating healthy on a budget.

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