Image from Pexels

Image from Pexels

If you’re living with a buffet-style dining hall, surely you won’t fall into that “starving college student” stereotype, hoarding ramen and week-old pizza, right? I mean, it’s all you can eat! Day after day after day, you’re just a meal swipe away from an endless supply of watery pasta and greasy burgers. After about a week, you’ll probably be feeling bored and bloated, but what can you do? Your meal plan isn’t exactly giving you access to a five-star restaurant. Luckily, you don’t have to eat like this! Here’s how to live off the meal swipe, not just survive by it.

Dining Hall Hacks

Despite being advertised as the pinnacle of convenience, your meals will come with some assembly required. Get creative!

Microwavable Mac and Cheese: Are you craving Kraft? Ditch the chemically orange powder and make your own! Just cover plain pasta with shredded cheese from the salad bar. Then pop that sucker in the microwave until it’s ooey-gooey delicious.

Breakfast Parfait: Despite the name, this healthy treat can be incorporated into any meal. You just need yogurt, fruit, and a hard cereal or granola, adding each one on top of the other. Experiment with different orders and find one that suits you! Best served in an impeccable crystal glass, through which you can see each succulent layer. Alternative: one of those plastic cups that somehow survive being dropped like 12 times a day.

The Pizza Bagel: Bagels are great! Pizza is great! Combining them is even better! Just take one plain boring bagel. Slather it up with marinara sauce from the pasta station, then sprinkle mozzarella cheese on top and pop it in the microwave until it’s toasty and delicious. Put a twist on a classic by adding extra toppings like pepperoni or olives or even spinach!

Utilize your options and in no time, your savvy dining hacks can take any mess from disgusting to delicious.

Nutrition Facts

College isn’t necessarily where health goes to die. Love your body and give it all of the nutrition and energy it needs to power through your day. Skip the froyo machine tonight and substitute any number of options that taste good and feel good.

La Ensalada Magnifica: The salad bar is your studio. Your bowl is your canvas. Salads don’t have to be a bland pile of leaves anymore. Make yours a masterpiece! Use as a substitute for: Any side dish that’s been deep-fried.

Grilled Chicken – For all you meat-eaters out there, grilled chicken is great source of lean protein. Plop it on a bun to make a sandwich. Incorporate it into your dazzling salad creations. Pair it with pasta, have a friend sing “Bella Notte” to you and a significant other, and reenact an iconic scene from Lady and the Tramp sans the fatty meatballs. Being a basic dish, its versatility is boundless! Use as a substitute for: any meats. Especially fried ones.

Vegetables – My mother told me that if I stopped eating vegetables, I’d get scurvy. I don’t know about you all, but between papers, exams, meetings, and jobs, I don’t really have time for scurvy. Try to snag something green (besides that mint-chocolate chip ice cream) at every meal. Vegetables aren’t your thing? Trick your taste buds by pairing it with something you do like. Go ahead and throw some cucumber into your salad bowl. Mashed potatoes taste way better with steamed broccoli. Go green at the stir fry station. Just keep trying different combinations until you find something you can stick with! Use as a substitute for: French fries.

PB and Fruit – You’ve survived dinner and almost everything was edible. But now it’s time for dessert! Indulging yourself every now and then can be great, but if you’re looking for something a little easier on the system, drop that cookie. Add a little peanut butter to any kind of fruit to get a healthy treat that still satisfies the sweet tooth. Use as a substitute for: everything at the dessert bar.

Swipe and Snack

So you’ve conquered the perfect meal, but what about life between swipes? How do you avoid the late night siren song of the vending machines? Don’t settle for a $2.00 bag only half-filled with stale Doritos. Snacking should satisfy. Every dining center has a different policy on taking food, but if you can get away with it, load up on Tupperware and haul out any and all munchables to keep your engine going.

Cereal – Who needs chips when you have Cheerios? If you’re just looking for some idle crunching, fill a container with the cereal of your choice. Then you’ve got yourself a great sharable snack for study sessions, movie nights, or just afternoon hangouts.

Fruits – One of the main factors that keeps drawing me back to the candy bar cache is convenience. If I want to snack, I want it to be easy. Keep bananas, apples, and oranges on hand instead. They don’t have to be refrigerated and can be carried from class to class to help quiet your stomach throughout the day.

Oatmeal Toppings – While I can’t advise you to smuggle out a bowl of oatmeal itself, the toppings are great for what I call “apathy snacking.” So often, when we’re bored, we hit the pantry just to give ourselves something to do. Make this guilt-free with fit picks like raisins or granola.

Making food decisions for yourself can be a little overwhelming at first, leading to many college students over (or under) eating. With these helpful tips and tricks, anyone can stay healthy and happy on a standardized meal plan. All you have to do is embrace the swipe.

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