"How can I make healthy food choices in a college dining hall or when eating out?"
A college dining hall or a restaurant may not seem like the ideal places to make healthy food choices, but with the right knowledge - it's entirely possible. Here's a playbook of strategies to help you navigate the dining hall or a night out while sticking to your nutrition goals.
First and foremost, variety is your friend. Dining halls often boast a range of options, so use this to your advantage. Build a balanced plate with colorful fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and rice/pasta/grains. The salad bar is often a great place to start. While salad bars mainly feature ready to eat vegetables, you can often find sliced cold cuts or hard boiled eggs at the salad bar. After you build your salad, next up is protein. Choose lean proteins such as lean cuts of beef, grilled chicken, or fish, which provide the high-quality protein needed for muscle recovery.
Portion control is your next line of defense. It's easy to overload your plate when faced with buffet-style dining or oversized restaurant meals. Be mindful of portion sizes. As an athlete you want to meet your body’s energy needs - not eat as much as possible. 1-2 palm sized portions of protein, 2 fist sized portions of vegetables, and enough starches/grains to fill at least 1 of your cupped hands (you might need 2 if you are training hard, and 3 if you need to gain weight).
Cooking Methods Matter
Next, be discerning about cooking methods. Aim to eat foods that have been baked, grilled, or steamed, poached, or seared. Pass on foods that have been fried or drenched in sauce.. Choosing lean proteins that are prepared in these ways helps minimize your intake of unhealthy fats.
Don't hesitate to make special requests. If you prefer your vegetables steamed rather than sautéed in butter, ask for it. Most establishments are willing to accommodate reasonable requests to meet dietary preferences or restrictions.
By keeping these strategies in mind, you can successfully navigate your college dining hall or your next meal out while staying on track with your nutrition goals. Good nutrition is a cornerstone of athletic performance, so these choices won't just benefit your health, they'll give you an edge in your athletic endeavors as well.