How to Eat Healthier When You're on a Meal Plan

Meal plans can be less than perfect. Some people like them, some people don’t. How you deal with a meal plan you don't like makes all the difference. Here are some tips to finding the silver lining when dealing with a meal plan, either in the dining hall or in your dorm room!


Part 1: Accept the plan for what it is.

Writing from experience, I know that dining halls don’t always provide the home-style healthy you may be used to. There’s no way to go out and grow food in your own garden, or even choose where your food is coming from. However, there are ways to personalize the options available by making small changes and choosing whatever is the healthiest. Pick options that make the most sense for you. Here are some ideas:

  • If too much oil is a problem for you, tell the staff at the station to use little to no oil on your eggs/omelet.
  • Skip the bad sugar and carbs, especially in the morning. Opt for a piece of wheat toast with a little jam instead of a cinnamon roll.
  • Instead of choosing sugary cereal, choose plain Cheerios – and pair them with chopped-up banana or strawberries.
  • Get a sandwich without having it “toasted;" this reduces unnecessary oil.
  • Skip the flour tortilla at the Tex-Mex station. I love to make salad bowls with just the beans, rice and meat instead!
  • Try to eat salads with your meals (I’m no health food expert, but I have to get that roughage in sometimes). I typically choose romaine lettuce or spinach. I love to put carrots, beans, egg and even a little cheese on mine. If you’re feeling fancy, you can also top it with some fruit.
  • #UnpopularOpinion: Try not to use dressing (or as much dressing) on your salad. This may seem crazy (my friends have already told me so), but it reduces the amount of fat you’re consuming. If you have to have something, try olive oil!
  • Try grilled chicken or fish instead of fried chicken or meat that is smothered in sauce.
  • Find low-sugar yogurt or cottage cheese for a protein source if you aren't an egg person.

Now, remember, these are all tips you can either put into practice or not. It’s really up to you. These are just some easy fixes that can make the dining hall a little more personalized. Side note: I also try to avoid the dessert counter/bakery altogether. No good can come out of that temptation, especially when you’re a chocoholic.

Part 2: Take action in your dorm room. 

Need to curb those late-night cravings but the dining hall is closed? Choose healthier snacks to store in your dorm room! Buying easy snacks from your favorite grocery store or health food store can help you resist the temptation to choose unhealthy food. I also really like having easy-to-grab snacks when I have a lot of classes in one day. Here are some of my recommendations:

  • Nuts (individual packages)
  • Dry Cereals
  • Portable Fruit (Apples, Bananas, etc.)
  • Cheese Sticks
  • Cottage Cheese
  • Deli Meat
  • Olive Oil Popcorn
  • Protein Bars

I usually buy the majority of my food and snacks at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s, but you can buy them wherever you like best. Oh, and don’t forget to buy some sandwich bags and/or Tupperware too. That definitely helps to make snacks transportable.

Pro tip: Another great item to have in your dorm room is some type of blender, like a NutriBullet. I use this to make smoothies all the time. Smoothies let me get in my regular serving of fruits and vegetables while also being able to control what I consume. I’m not a huge egg lover, so this option is great for me to get the protein that I need in the mornings! Here’s what I usually put in my smoothies:

  • Frozen Fruit (berries work great!)
  • Bananas
  • Spinach
  • Protein Powder
  • Water

Plus, smoothies can be stored if you prefer to drink half in the morning and half another time. They also make a great post-workout energizer!

Whether it’s staying in or making the trip to the dining hall, I know that choosing the best food option can be difficult. So, while you’re on meal plan, remember to find the options that work for you! Snack often, worry less, and you’ll find that balance you’ve been looking for.


Photos by Eman Haque