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A How To: Eating Healthy at Penn’s Dining Halls

With the 'new year, new me' mindset slowing down to a slump, don't let your dining plan stop you from eating healthy!

Article by India Allen

Photos by Justine de Jesus


This is the year you will be healthy. This is the year when you start going to the gym, when you start drinking more water, when you start eating healthier. However, Commons did not seem to get the message. With hot dogs, burgers, fries, and desserts galore at your fingertips, it is difficult to roll out of the dining hall without having eaten your weight in ice cream. Whether you are fighting off the freshman fifteen or attempting to beat the resulting sophomore saddlebags, you have found the right article.

You probably expect me to start with, “Go for the greens!” Although that is a good piece of advice, a better start is, “Go for the water!” Both Commons and Hill offer “fresh” fruit infused water at every meal. When you start you dining hall spree with a large glass of water, not only will you be less likely to make a beeline for the soda pop, you will also fill your stomach with water rather than tater-tots. If you are feeling really motivated you could even start the meal with a cup of tea!

This is when I tell you to eat your veggies. Wrong. Do a scope of the place. Instead of rushing in, grabbing a plate and piling it high with whatever you come across first, take a moment to see what is being served and what looks good or edible. I like to start by sampling the soup, a great first course for a healthy meal. If you are feeling really ravenous and ready to consume anything that is sloped onto your plate, hit the fruit bar. Eating a bowl of sometimes fresh fruit will fill you up before you have time to inhale three pieces of pizza and a piece of chocolate cake. Pineapple even aids in digestion!

Now for the green stuff. Okay. We all know that “steamed in small batches and seasoned to perfection” usually means either boiled into mush and lacking salt or raw and dripping in oil. However, that is no excuse to skip out on the foliage. Grab a bowl and fill it with some kind of vegetable (no, potatoes are not vegetables!), whatever vegetable you think you can stomach. Then dress it up! You can put anything on a salad; fruit, grains, other veggies, even cottage cheese. Put a little of whatever tastes good to you (a burger doesn’t count) on top of that bowl of greens and enjoy! If spinach smothered in olives, raisins, artichoke hearts, and balsamic vinaigrette still won’t go down, you might just need to develop some self-discipline.

The final strategy I will share is plate limiting. If you find yourself carrying three plates and a bowl over to the dishwashing station after each meal, you are probably eating too much. This is where the self-discipline comes in again. At home, you probably had one plate to fill each meal. Maybe you went back for seconds but your kitchen wasn’t an all you can eat buffet for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Make the same rule for yourself in the dining hall. I limit myself to one plate and one small bowl (usually for fruit or an extra helping of vegetables). After finishing your plate and bowl, leave the dining hall (don’t forget to snag a few bananas on your way out!). With these tips, a little self control, and maybe a visit or two to Pottruck, your New Year’s resolution doesn’t have to die down.