By Shannon Simmons

Are you finding it difficult to eat a healthy diet full of fresh foods when you are stuck on campus? It can be very difficult to get a variety of foods and still maintain a healthy intake of fruits, vegetables and lean protein. So what are you to do if you find yourself heading to the salad bar every day? 

There are a few choices you have when you are faced with the “salad for lunch every day” option! You can make do with what is in the dining hall, or supply your dorm room with quick and convenient healthy alternatives. If money is an issue and you need to stick to a meal plan, then I suggest experimenting with a variety of ideas. The first choice is obvious: make sure your salad is loaded full of vegetables, legumes (beans) and nuts for healthy fats and protein. Lettuce and some salad dressing are not going to cut it for a nutritious meal. Load up on items like kidney beans, garbanzo beans and sunflower seeds for protein and fiber. You can also add broccoli, beets, carrots and cucumber to increase your antioxidant intake. For salad dressing, make your own with the oil and vinegar offered. Other dressings can be high in fat and sugar. If you aren’t sure of the nutritional content of a food, you should ask someone to get that information for you!

If you have had enough salad, then move on to the sandwich bar. Enough of the boring turkey and cheese sandwich; head back to the salad bar to grab extra goodies to put on top, like peppers, cucumbers and spinach.  Put all of your good stuff on top of whole wheat bread instead of white bread. This should increase your nutrient, vitamin and fiber intake.

When it comes to the rest of the dining hall options, you should be more aware. Some items are extremely high in sodium and fat. The grill can often serve French fries and burgers that pack on the fat. So try to seek out those healthy choices when they arise. Stick to entrees that include a healthy grain, such as rice, and a lean protein (preferably not laden in butter). If you are finding that there are not many healthy, hot entrees, then turn in a suggestion form to the kitchen. I am sure they will want to know your opinion. And when they do offer a healthy option, make sure you take and eat it. Many times, food services want to see that the students will eat the healthier food so it is not wasted. If no one grabs it, then they will quit offering it!

If you want to make your own healthy food but are living in the dorms, you still have some options. It helps to have a refrigerator in your room or dorm area to store some perishable items. The best breakfast could be oatmeal with a protein like yogurt or cottage cheese. Buy old fashioned oats or at least pre-packaged oats that are low in sugar. Low fat or non fat dairy items like cottage cheese and yogurt are a good protein option (plain Greek yogurt has a lot of protein and very little sugar)!  Stock up on healthy snacks like apples and bananas that you and your roommates can share! Hit the bulk food section at your grocery store to get raw almonds and even pretzels for a snack on the go.

If you are consistently buying protein bars, then look at the label. You want a bar that is as natural as possible. So look for a bar with the fewest ingredients and few additives. You also want to check the label for sugars as some protein bars are actually candy bars in disguise! Some great brands are LaraBar and Luna Bar.  If you have a refrigerator you could stock up on sandwich choices that you can’t find in the dining hall. Try breads that are without high fructose corn syrup or trans-fats and lunch meats without added nitrates. There are many affordable options out there now.

Lastly, try to limit how many calories you are drinking! You might be surprised how many sugar calories are in your favorite drink. Plus, think of all the money you spend on your favorite coffee shop drink. If you love the drink, see if you can have it made with nonfat milk or sugar free syrup. If soda is your beverage of choice, try to limit it to just a few times per week.

If in doubt, ask yourself, “Did God intend for me to eat this? Is it in a natural form?” Often times, the foods that are the worst for us are highly processed and manufactured. Do what you can to increase your intake of foods that are naturally produced by God!