College is a time where most people for the first time, are on their own meeting new people, exploring a new campus, and it is most people’s first time making all their meal and snack choices. One thing that I wish I had when starting out at college is a guide to being able to navigate the dining halls to make sure I was getting the most nutritious choices. These are the healthy eating tips for college students that I wish I’d had when I was in college. 

With many less nutrient dense foods such as pizzas, burgers, chicken tenders, ice cream, fried rice, and French fries right at your fingertips, you will want to try and aim for the areas of the dining hall that have more nutrient dense foods. It is important to consume a meal low in fat and added sugar, high in whole wheat items, fruit, vegetables, and lean meat or if vegetarian, plant-based protein. 

Healthy Eating Tips for College Students in the Dining Halls

Follow the combination formula

Create a meal that is combined with a source of carbohydrates such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, or potatoes, a protein such as lean meat, beans, yogurt, chicken, eggs, a fat such as peanut butter, hummus, or sunflower seeds, and fruits and vegetables. This combination can give you the energy needed to get through the rest of your busy college schedule!

Eat whole grains!

Eat whole grains such as brown rice, whole wheat bread, whole wheat pasta, quinoa, and oatmeal. USDA recommends that people eat half of their grains as whole grains so, if you consume 6 ounces of grains a day, 3 of them should be whole grains. Whole grains are rich in fiber, B vitamins, and iron. 

Eat fruits and vegetables at every meal!

To reach the recommended fruit and vegetable servings of 1.5 servings of fruits and 2-3 servings of vegetables a day, grab fruit and vegetables at every meal and try to make half your plate fruits and vegetables.

Eat heart-healthy fats!

Eat nuts, seeds, fish, avocado, olives, olive oil, and canola oil to aid in healthier blood cholesterol levels and lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. 

Watch out for extra added sugars

Instead of going to the soda fountain to get your unlimited soft beverages, opt for water, unsweetened ice tea, low-fat or skim milk, and flavored soda water. Though it is okay to treat yourself to a soda, try to not have soda or sugary beverages at every meal. 

Head to the salad bar!

The great thing about a salad bar is that you get to choose what you are putting on your plate! To make a balanced salad that will keep you full, start out by filling your bowl with fresh greens and veggies. Following the vegetables, add a source of protein such as grilled chicken, salmon, cheese, nuts, seeds or boiled eggs. Following protein, add a carbohydrate to your salad such as some quinoa or brown rice to the top, croutons, or barley. Lastly, finish with your favorite dressing but be careful to not add too much! A salad can become loaded with added sugars or sodium when too much dressing is added so aim to keep it at about two tablespoons. Finally, enjoy your salad!

college students using healthy eating tips at a salad bar

Make a sandwich!

Like the salad bar, the sandwich bar is a great area to go to be able to choose what you would like on your sandwich! Some tips for a well-balanced sandwich is first starting  out with a fiber rich base such as whole-wheat bread or a whole-wheat wrap! After you have your base, add some healthy fats such as hummus or avocado. After a spread, add veggies to get more nutrients into your sandwich like tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, or spinach. Last but not least, add protein such as cheese, tuna, boiled egg, chicken, turkey, or lean ham. 

Check the menu prior to going to the dining hall

Many college dining halls have an online menu accessible to all students that give their specials for the day, have nutrition information, and let you know what they are serving for the day or week. By looking at the menu prior to heading to the dining hall, you can have an idea about how you will put together a well balanced meal instead of getting there and feeling lost and continuously ending up at the pizza bar. 

Get calcium daily!

Try to get 3 cups of calcium daily by having yogurt at breakfast, low-fat milk, skim milk, soy milk, or fortified almond milk. Calcium is not only important for strong bones and teeth but it also plays an important role in blood clotting, helping muscles contract, and regulating normal heart rhythms and nerve functions. 



  1. Fats, oils and heart health: The heart foundation . Fats, Oils and Heart Health | The Heart Foundation .
  2. Dolson L. You may be eating more grains than you think. Verywell Fit. Published March 8, 2021. 
  3. Eating Healthy in the Dining Hall. UGA Dining Services.