Navigating college can be tricky already with new classes, friends and living environment so it's easy for your diet and eating habits to let loose. Not only does eating healthy become less convenient in college, it can be more expensive and less tempting when you're hungry late at night. To avoid the sneaky extra pounds and save money as you adjust to your new life on campus, follow these guidelines when grocery shopping, eating in the dining hall and late-night snacking. 

By Carol Lapin, MS, RD
August 26, 2010

It's easy to avoid the freshmen 15 once you have figured out where to get the healthiest options on campus, stock your dorm room with healthy snacks, and find an exercise schedule that works for you. Keep those unwanted college pounds at bay by eating healthy in your dorm room and dining hall, making smart choices while socializing, and reducing stress through exercise and sleep. 

Making the move from home to campus life is a major transition for most college freshmen. Students are faced with sudden changes that often result in undesirable eating and fitness practices as well as stress and increased body weight. Studies show that the average freshman gains five pounds rather than the much feared “freshman 15.” However, a small amount of weight gain during each year of school can potentially add up by graduation. Try these tips for better health during college and beyond.

Stocking the Dorm Room

Limited kitchen resources and lack of cooking skills keep students from preparing healthy meals. However, a few small portable cooking appliances and healthy grocery store staples may aid in meeting nutrition goals. A mini fridge, toaster oven, and microwave are all you need to create quick, healthy meals and snacks. Be sure to check the dorm rules for using appliances before moving in.

Dorm-Friendly Grocery List

Dry Goods:

Refrigerated Goods: 

  • String cheese
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Hummus
  • Deli turkey
  • Water bottles
  • Greek yogurt
  • Baby carrots and other bite-size vegetables
  • Fresh fruit
  • Skim milk


  • Whole wheat waffles
  • Frozen microwave vegetables

Navigating the Dining Hall

College dining halls offer an array of healthier options. Follow these tips when making your selections:

  • Choose a small plate and use the proper plate division rule. Make half the plate nonstarchy vegetables and/or fruit, a quarter of the plate a protein-rich food, and the other quarter of the plate a starchy vegetable (like potatoes or corn) or a whole grain (like brown rice).
  • For breakfast, choose high-fiber cereals, whole grain breads, fruit, poached eggs, and non-fat yogurt or milk.
  • Start at the salad bar by pairing spinach or Romaine lettuce with low calorie, nutrient-rich foods like vegetables, beans, corn, and low-fat cheese. Skip the creamy dressing and opt for vinaigrette.
  • Watch for high-fat items that use these descriptors: buttered, in butter sauce, fried, crispy, creamed, in cream sauce, in its own gravy, Hollandaise, au gratin, in cheese sauce, scalloped, casserole, and marinated in oil.
  • Choose these healthier food descriptors: steamed, garden fresh, roasted, broiled, and poached.

Socializing Smarter

  • Excessive alcohol consumption is not only bad for your health but can also lead to weight gain. Remember: beer and alcohol are high in calories.
  • Junk foods like pizza, fast-food burgers, sodas, donuts, and chips may be cheap and convenient, especially after an evening of late-night studying or partying, but the long term cost will be an expanding waistline.
  • If you need an extra jolt of energy after a long evening, beware of the extra calories you dump in your coffee. Full-fat milk, sugar, whipped cream, and flavored syrups can add up quickly.

Reducing Stress

  • Adjusting to a new home away from home, meeting new friends, and the pressure of making the grades all add up to one thing for many students: stress. Many people turn to food and alcohol to soothe their stressed mind, which leads to bad habits that will last a lifetime. Students should be ready to face the stresses of college life and find favorite (healthy) ways to decompress.
  • Exercise keeps the brain stimulated and the body energized by releasing endorphins. Try exercising before a test or presentation to boost cognitive thinking. Most college campuses have gyms on campus, giving students opportunities to be fit and socialize in a healthy environment.
  • Sufficient sleep at night is a must. There is a close relationship between weight gain and sleep deprivation. Lack of sleep robs the body of energy, causes irritability, and may result in nodding off during class.