Q: I’m going off to college in the fall, and I’m nervous about gaining weight. How can I decide which foods to choose in the campus cafeteria when I don’t know their nutritional value or how the foods are cooked?

A: This is a great question that extends well beyond the college dining hall. It also applies to any type of buffet eating – a pot luck, family-style meal, party, vacation, catered event, or any other situation where you have little or no say over what’s on the menu. Don’t make yourself nuts worrying about the uncontrollable. Just follow these basic rules and you’ll automatically eat well while staying at a reasonable calorie limit.

Avoid anything fried, including fried chicken, chicken nuggets or tenders, French fries, onion rings, chicken Parmesan, or fried fish. When it comes to proteins (chicken, turkey, seafood, beef, etc.), your best bets are poached, steamed, grilled, broiled, or baked entrées. Remove any visible fat (or poultry skin) on your meat before eating.

Go heavy on the vegetables. Salads are a terrific way to load up on produce, and most college dining halls and buffets have elaborate salad bars with all sorts of healthy toppings. Beyond salads, go for any other veggies that are available. Even if the veggies are cooked in lots of butter or oil or swimming in sauce, they’re probably a better choice than the rest of the options – and you can always blot with your napkin or push away some of the sauce if the veggies seem super oily.

Minimize starch servings (including pasta, rice, bread, and potatoes). Starches are more calorie-dense than other foods, and they’re very easy to overeat because they’re comfort foods that people tend to crave. Stick a small serving (one small scoop), and fill up on protein and non-starchy veggies.

Skip dessert and grab fresh fruit instead. I bet fruit (or even fruit salad) is always readily available at your dining hall, but it won’t always be an option in some of the other situations I described. If fruit is a no-go, it’s better to just skip dessert, or enjoy just a small sliver or a few bites of a decadent dessert (I bet you can find a friend or family member who’s willing to share).


Need breakfast ideas that’ll have you at the top of your game come exam time? Give these a shot.