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Life

Making the Most of the Dining Hall

Eating in college can be a little tough. We’d all love to go out and treat ourselves to a nice meal every night, but I could not name a single person, let alone a college student, who has the means to do that. College kids are really at a disadvantage when it comes to food, even though they’re the ones who need it the most. We usually get our meals from an on-campus dining hall. But if we’re being honest, no one particularly enjoys them. They’re often crowded, have the same rotation of carb-heavy foods, and, worst of all, they close. Some of us have classes (or wonky sleep schedules) that conflict with designated meal times, so we end up skipping. This often leaves us with only the granola bars, high-sodium microwave meals, or popcorn in our snack drawers. But this doesn’t have to be the case. There are many relatively simple ways to prioritize healthy eating with only the dining hall at your disposal.

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Tip #1: Don’t skip meals.

It’s important to stay consistent with three balanced meals a day. This helps to regulate and stabilize your body. Once you get into the habit, you’ll find you have fewer snack cravings. Not only will that help you stay healthy, but you’ll be more likely to use up all your weekly meal swipes (and save a bit of cash, too). I truly believe that breakfast is the most important meal, but it can be difficult to squeeze it in when you have early morning classes. A good way to make sure you never go hungry in the morning is to take advantage of policies that allow you to bring food out of the dining hall. Stock up on fruits that you can save for the next time you sleep through your alarm. It’s definitely more enjoyable to leave dinner with a soft-serve ice cream than a banana, but you’ll thank yourself for planning ahead when your stomach isn’t growling in your 8 a.m.

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Tip # 2: Get creative.

Even if the dining hall menu sounds gross or boring, don’t give up and resort to having instant ramen. Make your way down there and scope out your options to see if you can whip something up that you do want to eat. Walk around to the different food sections and look for things that go together. You might be surprised by what you can come up with. I’ll be honest, I was genuinely proud of myself the first time I realized I could make peanut butter and honey toast with cinnamon sugar in the dining hall.​

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Tip #3: Make mealtime a part of your schedule.

This may seem just like the first tip, but it’s more for your mind than your body. College students go through stressful days. We have classes, homework, meetings for clubs, jobs, and plenty of other responsibilities that can often make it seem like there isn’t enough time in a day. No matter how busy your schedule, you should always make time for yourself to wind down and just enjoy being where you are. I find it helpful to kill two birds with one stone and couple this me-time with other productive activities. One way to do that is to reserve part of your day for each meal. You do have to eat, after all, so why not use that time to relax and practice a little self-care? Whether you prefer to do this by yourself or with friends, every meal is an opportunity to take a second to sit back and appreciate that you’re working hard and kicking butt.

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Tip #4: Veggies first!

I know, I sound like your mom scolding you at the dinner table when you were six. But, mother knows best. Dining halls serve a lot of carbohydrates, which break down to sugar in your body, and too many of them are not good for you. Rather than immediately heading toward the pasta, do a walk-through and weigh your option. Try to keep in mind what a balanced meal should look like; get in your vitamins and protein rather than filling up on processed foods. For those of us that don’t eat meat, here’s a cute chart of meatless protein options. Eating healthy doesn’t sound all that fun, but just like getting in the routine of three meals per day, it will make you feel energized and, well, healthy. All it takes is a little push to start the cycle and after a while, you’ll start to prefer good, clean energy to junk foods.

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Tip #5: Do it. Be bougie.

Sometimes it is just so nice to disrupt your routine a little bit. It’s easy to get bored with the same old thing, and that’s why it’s a good idea to go out every once in a while and have a meal somewhere else. It doesn’t need to be all that frequent or expensive. Whether you want to set a weekly budget or wait until you’re absolutely fed up with the dining hall rotation, you’ll be happy you treated yourself at all.

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Now, go forth and feast! You are to your dining hall as Bob Ross is to his painting.

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Olivia Fetter is a first-year at UC Santa Barbara planning to major in Psych and Brain Sciences. She loves traveling, terribly cheesy movies, photography, music, the Oxford Comma, and memes. A fun fact about Olivia is that she graduated from the same Connecticut high school as the actor who plays John Tucker in John Tucker Must Die, and she has genuinely looked forward to being able to say that since 10th grade. See what she means about cheesy movies?
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