Navigating the Dining Hall During an Era of a Health and Fitness Cult

Navigating the Dining Hall During an Era of Health and Fitness


Somewhat a response to my last article about eating alone in the dining hall, this article will outline some trick and treats (pardon the poor joke) about navigating through college dining halls during a decade focused on avocado toast, spin classes, matcha tea, and chia seeds galore. My first year at college resulted in me having far too many peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cereal. Thus, this year at Connecticut College, I was determined to revitalize my dining hall experience by uncovering new combinations of sandwiches and salads so that I can get (almost) all of the necessary foods I nutritionally need while still avoiding the greasy, oily, unhealthy options that often dominant the dining hall.

Before I dive into my personal list of hacks, I want to give a little spiel about why a) I took on this “project” if you will and b) why I think it is so important for college students all across the nation to be aware of these potential options. First, I had an epiphany over the summer and decided to change my diet. By no means did I do anything as drastic as follow a vegan diet or embark on a juice cleanse, but I increased my fruit and vegetable intake, made smarter choices about snacks, focused on having more protein than starch in my diet, and tried my best to drink a lot of water each day. If this an official diet that has a name I am unaware of, please, correct me. Personally, all of the different diets out there confuse and overwhelm me; I am a member of that party that believes health comes from smart food choices and being active (when you can). Furthermore, when I arrived at Conn for the fall semester I came equipped with nuts, dried fruit, granola bars, kombucha, avocados, and tea determined to implement these choices alongside smarter decisions in the dining hall. Several weeks in, I felt stronger and healthier. Even though I am not getting to the gym as much as I would like, I try to make up for this by making smarter choices in the dining hall and letting myself indulge in sweets now and then (Hannah Montana is right: nobody’s perfect).

This leads me to my second point. Most everyone has heard of the freshmen twenty and I will be the first to admit that I feared that was in the cards for me. As someone who has always been self-conscious of her body, this fear was spooky (oops, there is my poor humor again). All I will say is that it takes more than eating apples and carrots to feel happy in your body. It takes self-love and confidence that can be hard to find in a social media-driven world where we are constantly bombarded with pressures to conform to a certain body stereotype. So, while you probably can’t find self-love in the dining hall, you can find the yummy combinations that will make you feel better and perhaps, lead to self-love down the road...I will keep you posted.


Without a further a-do here are six tips that will revolutionize your dining hall experience:

Be Creative!

I cannot stress enough how important it is to be creative when picking food to put on your plate. Love salads? What are some new vegetables you can add to make a boring salad more exciting? Love peanut and jelly? How about peanut butter with cinnamon and MORE peanuts instead of jelly? I will admit that this feat is hard when the same foods are on the dining halls day in and day out, but the point is to work what you have in a creative way and each day look at the options with a new inventive strategy.

Be Patient

Some students feel so overwhelmed with work that they roll into the dining hall faster than a Maserati. Sometimes you have to take a sandwich to go, but that doesn’t mean it has to be a boring sandwich with no substance. When you feel like you have no time to do something, that is the time when you need to step back, take a break, and take a moment for yourself. Eating is crucial to staying healthy, so take your time when making choices. Take a quick loop around the dining hall to see what the options are for that day and then start envisioning options in your mind. Finally, be patient if you have to wait in line at the grill or the toaster is taking longer than usual. Trust me, you will be thanking yourself in the near future.

Don’t Fall into a Pattern

As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, last year I fell into (pretty unhealthy and boring) patterns regarding my meals (and life for that matter). What I learned from this experience was that to keep things interesting, you have to push yourself to try new things! You apply this goal to your academic and social pursuits, now you can apply it to your meals! Don’t stick to cereal for breakfast every morning or a pasta with red sauce for dinner; experiment! What would happen if you tried granola cereal and added nuts and dried fruit to the mix with almond milk? Or, combine some vegetables and create your very own pasta primavera! Making yourself food may be a bland task in your day, but try not to think of it that way. Think of it as a creative adventure. It sounds silly, but it won’t sound so silly once you bite into a delicious yogurt bowl or toast concoction.

Fruit and Vegetables are ALWAYS a Good Idea

A little food knowledge: you can never have too much fruit or vegetables. Feel like your plate is a bore or not substantial enough? Add some carrots and an apple or banana! Double up on fruits and veggies to maximize your intact. ALSO: always leave the dining hall with an apple, banana, orange, or whatever they have available that day and don’t be stingy: take a bunch! (I once left with three apples and a banana at once with NO shame).


Make sure that your room is stocked with snacks (healthy and unhealthy for those crazy study nights). Some ideas are dried fruit (for those occasions when the fruit availability is at an all-time low), granola bars (a good way to get some protein and fill up between meals: my favorite are Larabars, nuts, pretzels, chocolate covered almonds (or anything that strikes your fancy), popcorn, and anything else that will make you happy!

Share your Recipes!

With my newly found interest in food, I started a solely food photography Instagram account. I have always found joy in setting up a glorious plate or bowl filled with goodies with an aesthetically pleasing background. Call it the start of a trend or cult, but it is a way to destress and get creative with all of the design features Instagram has on their story setting. Not only did I create this account to have fun with photographing food, but I also wanted to have a platform to share my recipes with my college community so that I could possibly help improve their food experience at Conn. That may sound egotistical, but I don’t mean to become some food guru (well maybe I do), but ultimately it’s about helping a community become healthier (and myself included). I will now take this opportunity for a little self-promotion (I warned you about the egotism!): follow @healthy_eclaire if you are interested in more college food hacks;).