If you’re moving into residence, whether for the first time or as a returning resident, you might have questions about the food.

How do you stay healthy on a meal plan? Options aren’t always as varied or nutritious as what you might find at home, but if you’re mindful of what you eat, you can still stay healthy on a meal plan.

Maintain a balanced diet

Try to look for healthier options in the dining hall: proteins, green vegetables, and foods that are high in fibre. Many dining halls have salad options — eat them regularly. Advice from Harvard Medical School suggests having a salad made out of lean protein, such as chicken, tofu, eggs, or cottage cheese, as well as a small amount of fats like nuts and seeds. Just don’t load up on pre-prepared, high-calorie dressings.

Be mindful of your consumption of processed foods. There’s nothing wrong with a good burger now and then, but dining halls will often use frozen foods where possible, so try not to depend on foods that might have been made in a factory or come from a freezer. Look around — you might find there’s a grilled chicken breast you can put in your burger instead.

Similarly, while muffins and danishes can make excellent breakfast foods, pastries often contain sugars or saturated fats. Try a healthy cereal option or steel-cut oats — but not the sweetened, instant kind.

Snack better

When high-calorie snacks like chips and pop are readily available, it can be hard to resist temptation. But watching what you eat doesn’t mean you have to avoid snacking entirely. Many residence dining halls carry healthier snack options like nuts, fresh and dried fruit, or yogurt.

Consider loading up on these snacks and keeping them in the open where you can see them. That way, you might be less tempted to grab a pack of chips when the late-night snacking urges arrive.

Set regular meal times

In a 2018 survey, 35 university students identified time constraints as one of the leading barriers to a healthy diet.

Here’s where online classes might work in your favour. With recorded lectures, you have more leisure time to grab food when you want to, rather than whenever you have a break between classes.

Set a breakfast time — use it as a motivation to get out of bed. Make time to grab lunch, and try to eat dinner at a fixed time. You can even use food as a study motivator by telling yourself that you’ll accomplish a certain number of readings between lunch and dinner, and then, you can treat yourself to dessert afterward.

Treat yourself!

Residence food options go in cycles. As a result, everyone has their favourite that only comes around once a while. Whether it’s the butter chicken at Trinity College or the veggie breakfast sausages at University College, find that thing you like and eat it!

Similarly, you want to find a more common go-to for days when the available options aren’t so appealing. That can be a wrap you love, a smoothie that always gives you energy to continue through the day, or even that stash of ice cream sandwiches you keep in the freezer for a much-needed pick-me-up.

Eating healthy is important, but student life is hard, and we’re in the middle of a pandemic, so you’re entitled to your favourites.