Dining hall survival guide

    For the health conscious, dining halls are tough to navigate. The pizza station greets visitors immediately at the entrance, the dessert table never fails to disappoint and, except at Willard, nobody’s monitoring portion size. Grab your food and go back for seconds, thirds and fourths without an ounce of judgment from others.

    But believe it or not, it's possible to maintain a nutritious diet while on the meal plan. Prove the Freshman 15 myth wrong with these general guidelines, based on advice from Northwestern's Registered Dietitian Theresa Laurenz. 


    Nope, the three mushroom slices on your veggie pizza aren’t a big enough serving. Fill at least half your plate with vegetables. Jam-packed with nutrients, vegetables make you feel full and energized, Laurenz says. Hot veggies are usually placed just before exhibition items and are difficult to neglect. Willard goers, make sure to order a side of broccoli or salad with your entrée — it requires only a few extra touchscreen taps at no additional cost.

    Try: steamed broccoli, cauliflower, green beans and carrots. The salad bar often offers raw spinach, baby carrots and celery.

    Veggie haters: Sneak small vegetable pieces into your spaghetti sauce or soup. Alternatively, mask the taste with some melted cheese and a sprinkle of pepper. 

    Fill about a fourth of your plate with something of the meat, egg or bean variety.

    Try: turkey burger, scrambled eggs, sliced meat from the sandwich station and chicken, beef or tofu from the stir fry bar. A simple chicken breast from the grill goes wonderfully on top of any salad, scoop of rice or potatoes. Tofu, lentils and peas are excellent sources of protein for vegetarians.


    Whether you’re hungry for pasta, bread or potatoes, the dining hall’s got you covered. Fill about a quarter of your plate with starchy grub. Look for whole grains whenever possible. The occasional French fry, though, is OK.  “If you want to have something fried once in a while, that’s fine,” Laurenz says.

    High Calcium Source or Fruit

    Strengthen those bones and prevent tooth decay.

    Try: yogurt, cheese slices, white beans and dark leafy greens. Most fruits contain some usable calcium, but oranges and raisins have a little more than average and are usually available at the dining hall.


    Drink water. Juice and soda, though tempting, are high in sugar and useless calories. “I encourage you to drink one full glass of water and then ask, ‘Do I really crave that sweet drink?’” Laurenz says. “Have juice or pop act as dessert, not your main drink for the meal."


    “Don’t feel bad about having dessert every day,” Laurenz says. “Aim for a handful per day.”  Dessert can even include the buttery goodness of hot cookie bar, she says. However, watch your portions. Just because hot cookie bar night is only once a week doesn’t mean you should load up. Eat one or two and stop there.

    On hot cookie bar-less nights, go for the soft serve. It’s low-fat, satisfies the sweet tooth and contributes to your daily calcium intake. What more could you want?

    *Going out tonight? Stop for a second. Alcoholic drinks are wrought with empty calories that do nothing but contribute to that beer belly. To (somewhat) compensate, consider cutting out the dessert portion today — and only this portion. Don’t skimp on veggies or protein, or worse, dinner altogether. “Drunkorexia” has scary cognitive and health-related consequences in both the short and long term.

    The bottom line. Nutrition isn’t about depriving yourself. Eat what you crave, but don’t overdo it in portion size. “If you’re burping, farting and feel uncomfortable, you’ve gone too far,” Laurenz says. Learn to listen to fullness cues — your body (and friends) will thank you.

    Read about a group of students trying to bring real food to campus in North by Northwestern magazine.


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