Choosing the Right College Dining Plan

by Ana Felce

As parents, it’s normal to worry about your child heading off to college for the first time. Many often wonder: What about their laundry? Will they be safe? Are they going to eat pizza for every meal? How can I make sure they’re eating healthily?

Choosing the right college dining plan can help your child make healthier food choices while living away from home.

Determining the Right Dining Plan

When considering what plan will work best for your student, there are a few things to consider. First, what are their eating habits? Does your child love to cook, or prefer to have small, homemade meals throughout the day? Will they have access to a kitchen?

If your child has access to a kitchen and prefers to cook, then a dining plan offering fewer meals (or points) might be the best option. This way, students can enjoy a fresh meal from the campus dining hall when they don’t feel like cooking, like after a long day of classes.

On the other hand, maybe your child doesn’t know much about cooking, besides how to use a microwave. Or maybe there aren’t any cooking facilities in the residence hall. In that case, a plan that includes more points should be able to cover all of their meals on campus. Most universities offer a range of dining plans so all students have options, whether they plan to eat all of their meals at campus dining venues, only want to eat on campus when they don’t feel like cooking, or live off campus and rarely eat in the dining halls.

Know Your Child’s Options

Between the new routine and environment, the general stresses of adjusting to college life, and the abundance of new food options at students’ fingertips, the “Freshman 15” is often joked about. However, it’s definitely possible to avoid the weight gain.

Students living away from home for the first time may be tempted to fill up on quick and easy food choices that aren’t as healthy. To address this possibility, encourage your child to learn about their campus food options. Knowing all of the available options can help students make smarter choices. Despite what some may think, a dining plan does provide students with access to nutritious food they actually enjoy.

Many colleges offer a wide variety of dining venues and restaurants, so students have a range of cuisines to choose from. Students don’t have to eat the same meals day after day (although some still choose to). There are more choices than ever before and colleges are focused on providing freshly cooked foods so that students feel right at home. Having options means students can avoid foods high in sodium or fat—like ramen or pizza—for a more healthy and balanced diet.

Customize Your Child’s Diet Plan

Students who need help building a diet plan that works for them can take advantage of the nutrition counseling services offered by their university. At Azusa Pacific University, for example, students can schedule an appointment at the Student Health Center for free one-on-one nutrition counseling. Julie Negron is APU’s registered dietitian and is happy to meet with students to help them make the right choices when it comes to nutrition.

“Buy healthy foods with a long shelf life like nuts, seeds, peanut butter, whole/dried fruit, rice cakes, multi-grain bread, crackers, and cereal,” Negron suggests. “If [students] have access to a microwave, oatmeal, canned soup (low sodium and fat), and whole-grain popcorn are healthy options. For those with a fridge, stash fresh veggies, low-fat cheese, low-fat milk, Greek yogurt, hummus, etc.”

Negron also recommended that students choose a breakfast cereal that is high in fiber and low in added sugar, adding that whether they eat in the dining hall or their dorm room, regular exercise and a healthy diet can help prevent weight gain.

Moving away from home doesn’t have to mean living on a diet of pizza and other fattening foods. With so many options on campus that are prepared for students, eating quality food on campus is easy.