How to Eat Healthy in College: Nutrition Tips and Dining Options

Incoming St. John's Students exploring the dining options
By Simone Gmuca

College life brings newfound freedoms, including choosing your meals. With diverse dining options on campuses and all-you-care-to-eat dining halls, maintaining a healthy diet can be challenging.

This blog post covers how to eat healthy in college with nutrition tips, meal-prep ideas, and strategies for navigating campus dining halls.

 I. Simple Nutrition Tips for College Students

Dining Services

Eat a balanced breakfast.

The phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” is accurate! Eating a balanced breakfast helps boost your energy for the day, rev up your metabolism, manage hunger, and stabilize blood sugar levels. 

Skipping breakfast can often lead to lethargy, trouble focusing, and increased cravings for junk food. 

If you don’t have time for a sit-down meal, try these easy grab-and-go breakfast options that you can find throughout campus or quickly buy at a local grocery store:

  • Greek yogurt cups and fresh fruit
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Single-serve oatmeal cups
  • Low-sugar protein bars

Related: My Grocery List Go-To for College Students. 

Keep healthy snacks on hand.

Having healthy snacks in your bag helps you resist the temptation of less nutritious treats when hunger hits. Additionally, snacking is a great way to boost your energy levels, fuel your brain, and stabilize blood sugar between meals. 

St. John’s University students can stock up on nourishing snacks like Greek yogurt, popcorn, cheese sticks, fresh fruit, protein bars, trail mix, and hummus at the markets in Marillac Hall or Montgoris Dining Hall.

Related: Explore healthier snack options at St. John’s University. 

Stay hydrated.

Drinking enough water daily (about half of your body weight, in ounces) is essential in helping your body function at its best. Dehydration can lead to headaches, fatigue, poor focus, and dizziness. Carry a reusable bottle with you and take frequent sips to ensure you give your body the hydration it needs! Avoid high intakes of other beverages such as coffees, sodas, juices, and energy drinks, which are often packed with extra calories and won’t hydrate you like water.

Watch out for added sugar.

Excessive added sugar intake can cause weight gain, sluggishness, blood sugar issues, hormonal imbalances, and more. Added sugars are found in many processed snack foods and drinks. Did you know, for example, that one bottle of Coca-Cola contains a whopping 65 grams of added sugar (about 16 teaspoons!)? 

Added sugar can even be found in “healthy” foods like flavored yogurts, oatmeal, and granola bars. Make it a habit to check the ingredient labels on your foods to assess how much added sugar they contain. Aim to replace sweetened drinks and snack foods with unsweetened versions and satisfy your sweet tooth with fresh fruit.

Related: Read the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s article, “How Much Sugar Is in Your Drink?”   

II.  Meal Prep Tips (Dorm-Friendly Edition) 

Egg salad wrap and chicken salad on bread

Batch cook for the week.

If you have access to a kitchen, prepping food beforehand ensures you eat healthfully during the busy week. Instead of cooking a new meal each day, try cooking food in bulk at the beginning of the week; this way, you can portion it into Tupperware containers and take a nourishing meal to school or work. 

Need an easy, one-pan, batch-cook meal prep example? Place a few skinless, boneless chicken breasts, cubed sweet potatoes, and broccoli florets on a baking tray and season with olive oil and preferred spices, and roast in the oven until cooked.

Buy precooked and precut items to save time.

Washing, cutting, prepping, and cooking foods can be time-consuming. You can reduce the time it takes you to meal prep by purchasing precooked and precut grocery items, like washed and cut salad mixes, rotisserie chicken, and microwavable rice packets.

III. Making the Most of Dining on Campus

Dining Services

Tips to successfully navigate your college food options.

There are plenty of healthy options found in college dining halls. Learning how to navigate offerings at each station and decode key menu words can help you pick the best possible options. 

Here are a few tips to identify the healthiest choices and customize your meals to meet your nutrition needs:

  • Choose grilled meats over fried.
  • Add a side salad to meals.
  • Keep portions in check. Aim to fill half of your plate with vegetables and leave the rest for high-fiber carbohydrates and a source of lean protein.
  • Try to eat the rainbow at the salad bar by choosing as many colorful veggies as possible.
  • Avoid dishes with creamy and rich sauces.
  • Choose water or seltzer instead of sodas and juices.

Related: Try the US Department of Agriculture’s free resource, MyPlate, to build a healthy meal plan. 

Diverse and Nutritious Dining Options at St. John’s University

Montgoris Dining Hall Overhead shot of tables

St. John’s offers a wide range of healthy and nutritious meals that cater to the diverse needs of our dynamic student community. 

The University strives to provide a complete culinary experience that nourishes the body and mind, focusing on using high-quality ingredients and offering balanced meal options. 

All students can enjoy a variety of delicious and flavorful dishes that satisfy their hunger and contribute to their overall well-being. 

Explore a few of the University’s informative resources: 

St. Johns University Campus Dietician, Simon Gmuca

Simone Gmuca

Campus Dietician

Simone graduated from Queens College in 2021 with a degree in Nutrition & Dietetics, where she also competed on the Women's Soccer and Women's Track & Field and Cross Country teams. Simone went on to complete her dietetic internship at Wellness Workdays. During her internship, she specialized in sports nutrition & entrepreneurship and worked closely with many athletes of all sports and ages.

Since graduating from her dietetic internship, Simone has worked in a variety of settings where she has gained valuable experience in sports nutrition, weight management, and nutrition counseling.

Simone holds certifications as a NASM certified personal trainer & group fitness instructor, and has a passion for helping individuals improve their health through nutrition & exercise. She is excited to bring her knowledge and experience to the students at St. John's University.

Do you have a food allergy or any other questions for Simone? Get in touch with her at [email protected]