Photos and Words by Samantha Wood
I have a love-hate relationship with the dining hall. While I love the food served, I hate that it is not always good for my body. Living off-campus has eliminated some of these problems, but I can still remember navigating the dining hall and the skills I developed during my freshman and sophomore years. I do not claim to know everything about the dining hall, but I have tried my best to remain healthy on a dining hall diet and found tricks that worked for me.
Below are some of the techniques I used while perusing the dining hall fare. Keep them in mind while you are choosing your dining hall meals because the sea of good food can be a bit overwhelming at times and it is easy to lose your way after passing the cheeseburger, grilled cheese and pasta stations.
- Know your hunger level. This does not only apply to the dining hall, but it is more crucial when in a situation full of delicious foods so readily available. Before you even step foot into the dining hall, make a note of how hungry you are. Listen to your body. If you just finished a large snack in your room, it may not be the best night to try both the Italian Rose Penne and the Red Velvet Cream Cheese Bar.
- Prioritize which foods you want the most. Once you determine how hungry you are, decide which foods you want to eat most. What are you craving at this very moment? Your body is the only one who truly knows what you need, so following your cravings is the best way to get what your body needs most. Just watch out when your cravings lead you to the dessert table before dinner. Once dinner is over, you might change your mind about that slice of chocolate cake.
- Remember that the same food will be in the dining hall again. BU Dining Services offers a huge variety of meals, but they are not completely repeat-free. The meal you really want to grab for seconds will be there again in no time. So don’t load up now. Just keep the taste in your head and it will appear again. It will taste better because you waited for it. Trust me.
- Let your food digest before going back for seconds. It takes about 20 minutes for your body to digest after eating. So even if you think you’re still hungry, sit at the table for 15 minutes after finishing your first course before going back for seconds. A 15-minute story about the cute boy in your friend’s biology class might make you realize you are full after all.
- Take advantage of the salad bar. I know not everyone is a big fan of salad, but the dining hall is the best place to find try it out. All the vegetables are pre-cut and there are about 10 different dressings to choose from each night. Now that I have to make my own salads, I realize how much I took the salad bar for granted. Adding salad to your meal will make you full faster and keep you from filling up on calorie-dense foods.
- Don’t be afraid to try new things. The Sargent Choice labels on dining hall meals are not there just for fun. They are meant to help you figure out which recipes are healthier than others. Though some of them may use ingredients you have never heard of, like the Sweet and Sour Tofu or Tuscan Lentil Stew, these foreign-sounding dishes will expand your palate and make you healthier.
- Don’t be afraid of the dessert table. This may seem as if it belongs on a different list, but in reality, training yourself to step away from the dessert table is just going to make you want it more and that will just make matters worse. When your brain knows you can’t have something, it only gives you the craving to have it more. So, after you’ve waited about 15 minutes after your last meal, and you aren’t extremely full, satisfy your sweet tooth with one of the desserts from the dessert station. Once you have licked your plate clean, leave the dining hall. The longer you stay in the dining hall, the more you will be tempted to grab more food. Aim to leave about 10 minutes after finishing your last bite.
Have any tricks of your own for staying healthy in the dining hall? List them below. We’ve all had our own experiences in the dining hall and we want to hear about yours.
DISCLAIMER: I am not and do not claim to be a registered dietician or nutritionist. Therefore, the advice you see on this website has been researched, but does not come from someone with professional experience.