You’ve always loved buffets, and now that you’re in college, you can go three times a day. Dining in a college cafeteria is an invitation to overeat. A wide variety of options and the ability to eat as much as you want means that you may not realize the inches that you are adding to your waistline. Calories add up quickly, so it’s important to make informed choices about what you eat. Sleep and exercise is an important factor in weight control, but healthy eating makes a big difference.

Check out these five college eating hacks on a shoestring budget.

1. How to Lose Weight on a College Meal Plan

You may have heard of the freshman 15, but if you’re intentional with your food selections, you can actually lose weight on a college meal plan. Since college cafeterias are required to post information about each food option, calorie counting is not as difficult as it may sound. There are even free apps that will help you track what you consume. If you don’t want to worry about the numbers, avoid casseroles, pizza and fried food entrees. Instead, opt for steamed vegetables, protein and fruit. Eat salad with every meal, but don’t use too much salad dressing. If you opt for healthy meal choices, you won’t go hungry and you might even lose a little weight.

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2. Avoid Late-Night Fast Food Runs

If you’re up late at night cramming for a test or writing a 10 page paper, you’re bound to get hungry. It may be tempting to order a pizza or run out to get fast food, but consider other, healthy options. A protein bar or banana will quell your hunger and serve as a satisfying treat to get you through the night. Sparing your body of a fourth meal filled with empty calories is an effective college eating hack that will help you stay trim and energized.

3. Make Healthy Beverage Choices

Don’t underestimate the calories in great tasting beverages. You can drink your daily calorie limit by consuming a large mocha in the morning, medium smoothie in the afternoon and a 32 ounce soda at night. If you add alcoholic beverages into the mix, you’re likely to experience a swell in your waistline. A simple college eating hack is to drink water as much as possible. Invest in a water bottle and fill it up throughout the day. Most colleges provided cold, filtered water at drinking fountains throughout campus. If you need a cup of coffee to wake up in the morning or to stay energized during a late-night study session, skip the cream and sugar.

4. Stock Your Dorm Room with Healthy Snacks

A candy bar or bag of chips may be an enticing snack, but those extra calories add up quickly. Use some of your cafeteria dollars to stock up on fresh fruit, veggies and yogurt to use as a grab and go snack when you’re hungry. You may even be able to take small packets of peanut butter and jelly to use on crackers or bread that you purchase at a local grocery store. You can lose weight on a college meal plan if you purchase healthy snacks to keep in your room. Consider visiting a grocery store to buy some other staples for healthy, late-night eating options.

5. Learn to Cook

Use your time in college as an opportunity to learn how to cook. Invest in a microwave steamer or hot pot to whip up simple, healthy meals, when you don’t have time to visit the cafeteria. You can make almost anything with a mug and a microwave. Try mac and cheese, ramen or oatmeal as an easy and healthy meal substitution. If you replace the flavor packet in ramen with garlic powder and soy sauce, you can spare yourself the extra calories and create a delicious meal in three minutes or less. Use steamer bags to cook fish or broccoli and you’ll be surprised at the gourmet cooking possibilities.

About the Author

Dr. Kelly Meier earned her doctorate from Minnesota State Mankato in Educational Leadership. She is the author and co-author of 12 books and serves as a consultant in K-12 and higher education. Dr. Meier is is a regular contributor for The Equity Network and has worked in education for more than 30 years.