02/13/2014 02:57 pm ET | Updated Apr 15, 2014

7 Tips for Navigating the Dining Halls Successfully

Ah, my good ol' buddy, the Freshman 15. I don't know about you guys, but we've been friends for a long time. It's no secret that as soon as we begin college, we leave behind Mom's Sunday eggplant parmesan and head for the unlimited pizzas, burgers and ice cream sundaes in the D-halls. Although we're now "adults," many college students (at least for a time) are at the mercy of their dining halls due to their fast, convenient options. For me at least, I was riding the #strugglebus freshman year as I was unsure with what, when and how much to eat. Of course, the struggle included late-night snacking, binge-eating carbs and a fair amount of weight gain. I realized that with a plethora of food options across campus, it's important to be able to navigate the dining halls to determine what is best for us physically and mentally. So, here are some of my favorite tips I've gathered from nutrition blogs, friends, my own experiences and, of course, the maternal unit.

1. Know What You're Eating

Even if you're not counting calories, it's good to look at the nutrition info listed with each meal. You can decide whether going for another bowl of French fries is worth the sodium risk or whether that one tofu dish is enough to satisfy your protein at lunch. Most universities have nutritional info listed on the dining hall websites.

2. Rethink Your Drink

D-halls are usually filled with sugary and overly-processed drinks, such as sweetened teas and sodas. Instead of these beverages, drinking water is a great alternative to help you manage your calories at mealtime.

3. Balance Your Plate(s)

Keerthi Gondy - Healthy in the Dining Hall - Parisa Soraya

Photo by Parisa SorayaM

A proper food balance is often overlooked when eating in the D-Halls. Start your plate with one main carbohydrate (pasta, rice or sandwiches) and fill up the rest with veggies and protein (eggs, meat, beans, etc.)

4. Make Requests

Keerthi Gondy - Healthy in the Dining Hall - Parisa Soraya

Photo by Parisa Soraya

Since dining hall meals are part of a weekly rotation, the options can soon start to look too familiar and boring. Don't think that you always have to choose pre-made plates. Try choosing whole wheat instead of white bread on that sandwich. Opt for an extra scoop of grilled veggies. Switch up your toppings on your salads. Get creative!  (Trust me, it'll be the most fun you have before that hour and a half lecture).

5. Snax on Snax on Snax

Keerthi Gondy - Healthy in the Dining Hall - Parisa Soraya

Photo by Parisa Soraya

Consistently eating small snacks throughout the day will not only boost your metabolism, but also curb hunger and overeating at mealtime. Go for yummy, nutritional snacks like apples with peanut butter, hummus with crackers or granola.

See the final two tips on how to eat well in the dining hall here.