How to Create a Healthy Breakfast at the Dining Hall

The most important meal of the day can be difficult to master, especially when you’re faced with the multitude of options present in a dining cafeteria. As a first-year college student out to avoid those freshman 15, I know that I’ve got to start my first meal off right and follow a few tips in order to stay on track. Whether you are a college student on a meal plan or just happen to decide on a dining hall for your morning meal, these guidelines will help you create a well-rounded breakfast and leave feeling ready to take on the day!

1. Water and then some
Start yourself off with a glass of water– make sure to sip in between bites during your meal. If you’ve finished the glass and you’re still thirsty for more (or better yet, you had a morning workout), allow a second drink mix of coffee, tea, and lowfat or nonfat milk. It’s best to get your sugar from natural fruits, but if you must, go with a small glass of OJ or Gatorade– I mix mine with half water for a “G2” type drink.
Worst: anything besides water… especially whole milk, soda, and juice that isn’t 100% concentrate.
Better: a mix of water with 100% juice or coffee/tea with nonfat/lowfat milk
Best: water, tea, nonfat or soy milk, or straight-up coffee (less sweetener, the better!)

2. Protein is egg-cellently essential
Ask to make your omelette “small” or “light” and go for egg whites if you’re eating it daily. I generally limit myself to 1 or 2 regular egg omelettes a week. Eggs aren’t your thing? Get your protein from turkey bacon or sausage (or alternative sources like protein if your dining hall happens to have it!)
Worst – full-on, full-fat cheese, regular meats, potatoes, and other big fillers.
Better- half the cheese, low-fat turkey/ham, turkey sausage/bacon.
Best – hard boiled egg whites, no cheese (add your own if it’s low-fat), mushrooms, tomato, pepper, spinach, and other available veggies.

3. Fruit makes the meal
My breakfast isn’t complete without berries or a banana!
Worst: You really can’t go wrong with fruit, but try to avoid dried– added sugar and less nutrients.
Better: apple, grapefruit, clementine, banana, kiwi, pear, or berries!
Best: Avocado of course! It is indeed a fruit 😉

4. Calcify your bowl
Start off your bowl with yogurt or milk, then add your grains — cereal (mind you, Lucky Charms and Cocoa Puffs don’t count!), oats, or granola. Top it off with fruit or spice it up with some cinnamon! I bring my own flaxseed to the dining hall to sprinkle over yogurt and cereal.
Worst: fruity yogurt and anything… all that extra “fruit” taste comes from fructose and other forms of sugar!
Better: flavored Greek yogurt or plain regular yogurt with granola and dried fruit (fresh is better, but dried will do)
Best: Plain Greek yogurt with flaxseed, whole grain oats, and fresh berries or a banana

5. Avoid the simple sugars
When you see that pastry shelf, keep walking! A little reward is okay every now and then, but it’s best to leave the pastries out — those glazed croissants and stuffed muffins contain enough calories and fat to take over your daily breakfast (most being added sugars and those unhealthy saturated/trans fats) — with none of the nutrients your body needs!
Worst: full-size, hunky muffins and heavily glazed croissants (don’t you dare take two!)
Better: half an oat or blueberry muffin, or a small (occasional) treat
Best: no pastries, no problems!

Most importantly, keep your breakfast priorities in mind: protein, calcium, healthy fats, and whole grain carbs (think oats and flax or a whole grain English muffin). Fruit and veggies always make the list, too.

A bonus tip to remember: If it doesn’t suit you, bring your own! When it comes to certain foods that my dining hall lacks, I often bring my own healthy substitute — natural peanut butter, flaxseed, low-cal English muffins, and whole grain oats or granola — no shame in going your own way!

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