Dorm Appétit

By avoiding eating ruts, college students can achieve healthier, balanced diets.

by Elizabeth Ireland


Leaving home is exciting for a plethora of reasons, one being that it satisfies those dormant fifth-grade desires to be your own principal, stay out as late as you want and eat whatever you feel like.

Moving out gives a type of dietary freedom that most never experience at home. Suddenly you can buy whatever food you want, eat at whatever time you like and choose whatever diet you desire. Vegetarian? Sure. Purely carnivorous? Why not? ItâÄôs all up to you.

Enter the dorm dining hall: a buffet for every meal. ItâÄôs exciting and satisfying, at least at the beginning. Everything is new and thereâÄôs so much to choose from.

Once month two rolls around, though, youâÄôre hungry for something healthy âÄî but youâÄôve had carrots ten times this week already, and that broccoli looks kind of weird. French fries are a vegetable, right?

The reality is that as hard as it is to eat well at home, itâÄôs much harder to eat well on your own. When I was growing up, I rarely had to go grocery shopping or cook. My parents made the food decisions, and I benefitted from them.

The problem is when you suddenly have the liberty to choose your own food, whether in the dining hall or in the grocery store, what do you eat? Usually whatever looks good, with all health aspirations aside.

A recent study at the University of  South Alabama tracked the weight of over 50 students during their freshman year. The results showed that 62 percent of the participants gained weight, with an average of about 10 pounds gained per person. Putting on some pounds during college is a real threat, largely because all dietary responsibility suddenly plops on your shoulders.

Navigating the dining halls for healthy options can be particularly overwhelming, but it doesnâÄôt have to be a struggle. Yes, the only things that you can count on to routinely taste delicious are the battered, the fried and the greasy. And yes, it seems impossible to cook your own meals in the dorms. But with a plan in mind, it is possible to maintain a diverse and balanced diet.

The first rule is to not eat at the same dining hall for every meal. If youâÄôre feeling stuck in a rut âÄî I ate the same sandwich for dinner for two months last year âÄî try a different hall. If you live on East Bank, Middlebrook dining hall is an exotic change of scenery. In my opinion, they also have the best salad bar. If youâÄôre feeling truly ambitious, take the bus over to Bailey Hall. And donâÄôt forget to take advantage of late night at Centennial Hall. Taco Tuesday rocks.

ItâÄôs also more possible than you might think to cook your own food in the dorms. All of the dorms have kitchens and cooking utensils available to use; all you need is a box of noodles and a can of tomato sauce for a perfectly satisfactory dinner.

The second rule is to remember what they taught you in kindergarten: Put some fruits and veggies on your plate. A study completed this summer at Oregon State University showed that most college students arenâÄôt getting their recommended intake of fruits and vegetables. In fact, the average student consumes less than one serving per day.

Produce selection can seem meager in winter, but if you are willing to try new things, you can maintain a more varied diet.

The third and final rule is to not worry too much about it. As long as you maintain some sort of balance when feeding yourself, whether at home or in the dining hall, youâÄôll probably survive your first few years of dietary freedom.

Of all the new responsibilities you rise to meet here at the University of Minnesota, your eating habits may be one of the most important ones. DonâÄôt get carried away with your newfound independence, but donâÄôt deprive yourself of the dining hall cookies either. TheyâÄôre delicious.