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Freshman Problems: Dining Hall Foods That Are Deceptively Unhealthy

November 15, 2018

Freshman Problems:

Dining Hall Foods That Are Deceptively Unhealthy


So you made it through high school and graduated as a “mature” and “experienced” senior only to be thrust back to the bottom in college. Once again you’re the little guy on campus who has no idea what’s going on, watching the upperclassmen who seem to know everything and wishing you could be like them. You’re not alone, we’re all confused together and that’s okay. When it comes to freshman year, we’ve got the good, the bad and the funny. Welcome to Freshman Problems.


Every freshman has been warned of the freshman fifteen and how easy it is to form bad nutrition habits in college. The cold, wind, rain or four flights of stairs that separate your dorm from the dining hall make getting up for that Saturday morning breakfast a chore. Even if you make it to the dining hall at a reasonable hour, the amount of options available to you can be deadly to a healthy diet. Finding healthy meal options is not impossible if you know where to look, just don’t fall for these five foods that market themselves as “healthy” but can really hide lots of unhealthy components.


1. Granola

Granola is delicious and packs a welcomed crunch in yogurt or cereal bowls but just a handful of granola has a lot more sugar than you may realize. Granola is made with large amounts of refined sugar, honey, maple syrup and other sweeteners and some commercial brands can contain as much sugar as your favorite desert foods. In fact, federal government guidelines consider granola a “grain-based dessert” like cookies, cake and donuts.

2. Salad Dressing

The salad is the epitome of a “healthy meal” and while a big bowl of veggies is anything but bad for you, it can all be ruined with the wrong dressing. Store-bought salad dressings can contain high amounts of saturated fat, sodium and sugar which taste delicious but are not very nutritious. Try looking for dressings that aren’t cream based to avoid saturated fat and if possible, make your own dressing out of olive oil, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinaigrette.

3. Protein Bars

Although these may not be found in your dining hall, the energy bar is a staple of early morning classes and easily preserved dorm food. These bars are made to pack a lot of energy into a small package so it makes sense that the calorie count is usually very high but some protein bars contain high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats and enriched carbohydrates making them incredibly unhealthy. The amount of sugar makes these bars taste great but can really be detrimental if you’re looking for a healthy meal substitute, try spoonfuls of peanut butter (without added sugar) for those quick dorm room meals before class.

4. Pasta Sauces

Like salad dressings, not all pasta sauces are created equal, some have more veggies or cream than others but in a dining hall you don’t know what you’re getting. Store-bought marinara sauce often contains added sugar or high fructose corn syrup (sometimes listed before tomatoes on the ingredients list!) which spikes your blood sugar without you knowing. Alfredo sauce is hard to make healthy from scratch even with nutrition in mind and store bought Alfredo sauce is often worse. Sauces can contain shocking amounts of butter, cheese and cream, totally delicious but definitely not ideal for a light meal.

5. Fruit Juices

Fruit Juice is marketed as a great breakfast drink, given to healthy kids by loving parents filled with vitamins and minerals. However, fruit juices actually contain a lot of sugar, sometimes even more that your favorite soda. Fruits themselves contain healthy fiber but just removing the juices means no fiber but lots of sugar with more added on top by manufacturers. Just stick to water or tea.


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Abigail Repetto

Wake Forest '22

Abigail is a student at Wake Forest University studying Neuroscience and Music who loves trying new foods and singing in the shower. She has been writing for Her Campus since 2018.
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