The Truth about Dining Hall Meals

November 11, 2011 · 5 comments

I’m on my way to San Francisco for the third and final Urbanathlon! Here is a special guest post from Laura. Enjoy!

The dining hall. Some consider it a necessary evil for survival, others consider it their culinary mecca, although it never goes entirely either way. The ‘d-hall’, as I refer to it, is a deceptive place. What seems healthy often isn’t and what seems unhealthy may actually be better than you think. So how do you know what to choose and what to look for?

I’ll start with the very basics. Fruit and salad bar are for the most part safe (try to avoid the pasta and mayo-mixed chicken salads). Over to the fridges you can usually find yogurt, milk, and snack packs of fruit and veggies, all generally safe. But here is when it gets a little trickier. At BC, as well as many other schools I would imagine, you can also find in the fridge pre-packed salads and sandwiches. When I was a freshman I use to think these were healthy grab-and-go options, but they aren’t what they at first glance seem. And this brings me to my main point: the dining hall is a tricky place, and while it’s not hard to eat healthy, it is really easy to eat sodium filled, fat packed, calorie laden meals that you think are healthy, but really aren’t.

Take for example, my old favorite turkey sandwich on multi-grain. It’s literally just turkey, a slice of Swiss cheese, lettuce, and multi-grain bread. Sounds decently healthy, right? Not quite. While this sandwich is only 500 calories, it’s jam packed with unnecessary fat and sodium, 17 grams and 1131 grams respectively. Soups too are often suspect to extra sodium. Another one of my old favorites, the vegetarian three bean chili, has a whopping 1000 grams of sodium for a 10 oz serving. The recommended daily intake is less than 2,300 grams, meaning this one meal will have filled nearly half of your daily sodium intake!

Lunch and dinner options that sound healthy are often also subject to the same issues, and because portion sizes are loosely controlled, a side of brown rice may turn into a mountain of brown rice. And the result? A calorie bomb of a meal and healthy eating down the drain.

Another huge d-hall pitfall? Mindlessly eating that which is label ‘organic’ or ‘local’. Case in point: Addie’s Loft. Addie’s Loft is a dining area at BC where everything is local, from the vegetables, to the chicken, to the cheese. Eating organically/locally is a huge trend now, but many people think that the tag organic, local or all-natural means its good for you. Addie’s, for example, serves thin crust pizzas using all local ingredients.


Many of my friends will say to me, “That makes it healthier than normal pizza right?” Honestly, not really. The facts speak for themselves: 850 calories, 2500 grams of sodium, and 46.7 grams of fat (15.3 of which are saturated fat).

I know this is a lot of information, some of which you may have already been aware or, some of which may be a little shocking. So let me lay out a typical day of meals for me at the d-hall. It’s not perfect, as nothing will ever be if you aren’t cooking your own food, but it’s around the best you can do.  Want more options and structure? Check out The College Fat Burning System.

Breakfast:

  • Egg white omelet, no cheese, filled with mushroom, spinach, and tomatoes. Grapes. Coffee with skim, soy, or almond milk.

Lunch:

  • Salad with whatever tasty veggies they have the salad bar and a clean protein on top, dressed with olive oil and vinegar (**note here–be aware of the dressings they have at your salad bar. Sometimes something as simple as balsamic is actually made with high fructose corn syrup. Gross).  An apple w/ peanut butter. See more options.

Snack:

  • Fruit, a bar (Lara, kind, cliff), veggies w/ pita and humus, or 2 scrambled eggs w/ salsa

Dinner:

  • Fish with two sides of vegetables or a small salad. The pic below has a side of brown rice to demonstrate that ‘mountain’ I was talking about. I ate this with some spinach instead.
Fish with Mediterranean sauce, butternut squash, and a TON of brown rice.

Post-Dinner: Occasionally I’ll have fro-yo if I’m feeling rebellious. I do not make this a habit. You are more likely to find me sneaking 5 peanut m&ms from the candy bins. Yeah. I’m that kid.

In all seriousness, it’s really easy to fall out of healthy eating and fitness routines when you are in college. You often don’t have a lot of choice in eating truly good-for-you meals in the d-hall unless you want to eat salad every day. Here are my five main tips for surviving your d-hall.

  1. Recognize what the actual portion size should be and what they are serving you.
  2. Check the d-halls website for nutritional info, and if you can’t find it there, ask a manager. It isn’t rude or obsessive. Its your body, you have every right to be aware of what goes into it.
  3. I use the 80-20 rule. 80% of the time I play it pretty safe, sticking to fruits, veggies, grilled chicken or fish. The other 20% of the time I’ll get my turkey sandwich or my sodium packed soup. You can’t expect to be perfect 100% of the time.
  4. I have a kitchen and I use it as much as I can. Obviously if you don’t have a dorm room with a kitchen this is a little harder, but there’s a lot you can do with a microwave and a mini fridge, like microwaved eggs over a salad!
  5. Lastly: avoid late night. Most college dining halls will stay open late on the weekends, serving up unreasonably unhealthy meals. If you’ve been drinking a lot, when a mozzarella stick stares you in the face you’re going to eat it.

The purpose of this article wasn’t to scare you, as everything is okay in moderation. You are not going to die if you eat a turkey multi-grain sandwich. It was just to make you more aware and to help you make better choices next time you’re in your d-hall.

If you are looking to lose weight in college, check out The College Fat Burning System for meal ideas, study snacks and dorm room recipes. The program comes with your very own Tone It Up lifetime membership and diet plan.

Question of the Day: Do you guys eat at a dining hall? How do you combat eating healthy in a cafeteria? What are your go-to meals?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tiff @ Love Sweat and Beers November 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm

I miss the school cafeteria! No cooking, no dishes, and a prepped salad bar always waiting for me. (I eventually brought my own salad dressing though…)

Reply

2 nu2222 November 14, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Hi Sarah! I’m from India and I just recently started following your blog (btw, I’m loving it!! Your doing a great job!) & I didn’t really know where to post, so I’m sorry if this isn’t the right place :D
well, I have a question for you. I want to lose like 30-35pounds! And I have two gym options.
1. I either get to go to gym where they have aerobics, kick-boxing and step aerobics. And jog in a park and use elliptical cross trainer I have at home! Cause this gym DOES NOT have cardio equipment! O.o (weird)
2. I get to go to a very expensive gym where they have just cardio and weight training!
And I do understand that I’ll have to eat healthy!
But which one of the two do you think is a better gym option?
I hope to hear from you soon! Please do reply!
Thank you! :)

Reply

3 Tara M. November 14, 2011 at 5:18 pm

The food in my dining hall at school is…lackluster. And we discovered it’s cooked in this alternative butter stuff that is very, very unhealthy. It’s hard to find any good food, and the things that taste the best and probably the worst for you. Even the salad isn’t very good…All of this makes the pizza and pasta look pretty darn good.

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