The Freshman 15.
We’ve all heard of it, we all say it won’t happen to us, blah blah blah. When we went home for Winter Break, a lot of us probably realized we’re not as immune to it as we thought, so naturally we set New Years’ resolutions to “eat healthier,” “work out more,” etc. Haha, cute. Like THAT could ever happen when you’re eating dining hall food. Honestly, how do you expect me to eat vegetables when there’s a warm waffle with fresh whipped cream calling my name 20 feet away?
Okay so maybe not all dorm food is bad, and what if I told you there was something that could actually help you make better decisions about what you’re eating in the dining halls? I can really only speak 100% on the behalf of my fellow Southeast dwellers, since I don’t venture much outside of my beloved Gordon’s, but I know the other dining halls offer most of the same options. Anyway, this magical tool is called NetNutrition, and it has just about all the nutrition info you could possibly want about the dining hall food. It even lets you create a meal online and see how all nutrition facts add up, and it might make you rethink the cheese curds you get from Fired Up for dinner every night.
Most of these healthy hacks have to do with swapping or substituting the regular ingredients in the dish.
Let’s look at Buona Cucina first. For starters, they offer whole wheat versions of their pasta upon request. It takes a few extra minutes for them to get ready, but those whole grains are SO worth the wait. The white pasta they typically give you is full of necessary dietary carbs, but they’re refined carbs that will spike your blood sugar and make you crash later, which is not what you want when you have a long night of studying ahead. Instead, whole wheat pasta has a lower glycemic index than white, meaning it won’t cause your blood sugar to rise as rapidly, so you can prevent that post-pasta food coma (thx Nutri Sci). Another helpful tip when you’re ordering pasta is to avoid the heavy sauces like alfredo (11g of saturated fat per serving) and opt for lighter options like the homemade marinara sauce (only 71 calories per serving). The thick alfredo sauce tastes great, but your arteries will thank you later. Also, don’t be shy to top off your gourmet Italian cuisine with some broccoli or oven-roasted vegetables. I promise they taste much better when they’re drowned in pasta sauce.
Craving Chipotle but too lazy to walk all the way to State Street? Rather spend Wiscard money than your own personally-funded debit card? Sounds like Que Rico will suffice (plus the guac doesn’t cost $1.80 extra). First, consider getting a rice bowl instead of tacos or a burrito to cut out lots of calories and sodium from the tortilla. Honestly wouldn’t you rather mix it all together anyway? Next important thing – they only put the white and Spanish rice on display, but rumor has it you can ask for brown rice and whoever is working will venture into the mysterious depths of the Gordon’s kitchen to get you some. This goes back to the white vs. whole wheat pasta; the white rice is stripped of most of its nutritional value, go for brown instead. While someone grabs your cilantro-lime brown rice, you’ll have a little time to think about what kind of meat you want. Be careful – these meat fillings tend to be super high in sodium, and the vegan option has MSG, which can be bad news for people who are sensitive to it (and probably isn’t great for the rest of us either). My personal favorite is the chicken tinga, but you do you. And if you’re a cheese enthusiast like yours truly, go for the shredded cheese instead of the sauce. It only has about a quarter of the calories the sauce does, and beware of the Monterey Jack sauce – it has partially hydrogenated oils (can you say trans fats?). Feel free to load up on (somewhat) fresh veggie toppings, and don’t forget a dollop of (FREE) guac for some healthy fat.
If you’re really in the mood for a burger or trying to load up on protein, Fired Up will be your friend. Ask for the wheat bun with oats rather than the white bun, and if you’re getting chicken, choose the grilled fillet over the breaded one. As for a side, fries are going to be your best option if that tells you anything. But if you’re the kind of person who can’t turn down a good cheese curd (guilty…), having them very occasionally isn’t the end of the world.
We’ve all seen how long the omelet line is at Eggcetera, but it will never stop us from waiting for the best breakfast the dining halls have to offer. Eggs are a great breakfast option because they’re full of protein and healthy fat, but if you’re getting an omelet or scrambled eggs with toppings, try the egg beaters or egg whites. If you’ve ever seen the yellow gooey “liquid eggs” they scoop into your frying pan, you know what I mean. That stuff is full of extra preservatives your body doesn’t need, and not to mention it looks horrifying. Plus, if you’re already adding lots of ham and bacon to your omelet, the egg whites or beaters will bring the cholesterol load down significantly.
The cereal bar is another great place to grab breakfast, but you’ll want to think carefully about which cereal you choose. Most of them have lots of added sugar that will make you crash later, and you don’t want to be “that kid” who’s nodding off during lecture. If you like hot cereal, the oatmeal and cream of wheat are really good options, but you’ll have to get them early because they only make 3 batches of each per day and after that you’re shit outta luck. There’s no denying they’re pretty bland, but if you add brown sugar and chocolate chunks that are sitting out, you might as well have gotten cold cereal in the first place. Instead, adding peanut butter (at no extra charge I may add) will give your breakfast a little protein and fat to fill you up and hold you over longer than just a bowl full of carbs. If you need a little sweetness in your life, add some fruit syrup from the waffle bar and BAM you’ve got yourself PB&J oatmeal. Besides, that’s fruit so it’s healthy right? Close enough. The fruit bar doesn’t have the best oatmeal-topping fruits like blueberries and raspberries, but the apple slices can be awesome in a bowl of PB oatmeal. If you’re sneaky enough, you can put some in a bowl at the fruit bar and cover them up with a scoop of oatmeal, which is a flat price rather than paid for by the ounce.
Great Greens will have the healthiest options in every dining hall (thank you, Captain Obvious), but sometimes the salad bar is a little overwhelming so here’s a few pointers. The spinach and spring mix greens are more nutritious than the iceberg or romaine lettuce, and they weigh less because they have less water, which may save you a few cents when you have to pay by the ounce (It’s not much, but we poor college kids will take what we can get). Basically they’re cheaper and healthier, which sounds like a win-win to me. If you like chicken on your salad, go to Fired Up and ask for a grilled chicken patty without a bun (normally about $3) in a to-go box. Wait until the person working looks away, then discretely make your way to the salad bar and cover it up with the rest of your salad. You’ll technically still be paying for the chicken when you weigh your salad, but your meal will cost much less than if you’d bought the chicken separately. When it comes to dressings, you probably know the vinaigrettes will be lighter choices than the Caesar or ranch dressing (*tears* because ranch might be my favorite food and if you’re from the Midwest it’s probably yours too ugh). If you’re looking for something unique, I recommend Annie’s Papaya Poppy Seed dressing – it’s pretty light with just a hint of sweetness.
Global Kitchen and 1849 change their menus every day, but you can always check the online menus if you want to know what they’re serving ahead of time. 1849 often has a fish option (helloooo omega-3’s and protein), and it always has steamed veggies available as a side. The buttermilk biscuits and mac & cheese might look good, but they’re extremely rich and heavy, which probably won’t make you feel good.
Okay so it’s not impossible to make decent eating choices when you’re living in the dorms.
If you don’t give a damn what you eat because you’re embracing the Freshman 15 lifestyle, all the more power to ya. But if you’d rather spend your money on fun things like concert tickets instead of buying new clothes that will actually fit (it happens to the best of us), take these little tips and hacks into consideration the next time you run to the good ole G-Spot (or any other dining hall) for dinner.