Making healthy food choices in college is important for more than just avoiding the freshman 15. Eating healthy most of the time keeps your physical and mental health in shape, and allows you room to enjoy yourself when the opportunity comes up for late-night pizza or ice cream runs. The dining hall makes it easy to make a spur of the moment decision that might derail your health goals. The burgers, pizza, and ice cream often pull your attention, while the salad and sandwich bars are pushed to the side. But eating healthy will help your academic performance, immune system and overall health this fall. Here is a guide for how to eat healthy in a college dining hall.

Focus on structure.

No matter what you’re choosing, make sure your food checks the boxes for the macronutrients you need. Make sure at each meal you’re getting a carbohydrate (rice, whole wheat bread, oatmeal, potatoes), a protein (lean meat, beans, yogurt, eggs), a fat (peanut butter, hummus, sunflower seeds, olive oil), and some type of fruit or vegetable. Fill your plate with these to make sure your meals are balanced and will keep you full throughout the day. Once you know this structure for a balanced meal, you’ll be less overwhelmed and less likely to grab the first thing you see. Planning ahead means preparing to succeed. 

Go for the salad and sandwich bar. 

This way, you know exactly what’s going into your meal because you’re choosing the ingredients yourself. It doesn’t need to be boring. Grab a chicken breast from the grill and get creative with your favorite toppings. Make a sandwich on wheat or a wrap stacked with veggies and turkey. These build-your-own options are great for customizing something that tastes great but helps you stick to your goals around healthy eating.

Watch the extras. 

With unlimited soda and juice beverages at your fingertips, it can be second nature to grab one during your meal and keep refilling. While this is great once in a while, the extra sugar and calories can add up to the equivalent of another whole meal. Just be cognizant of it and opt for water when you can. Same goes with sauces and dressings. A salad can quickly turn unhealthy once it’s swimming in a pool of ranch. Watch that you aren’t overdoing it with dressings and sauces. You can try a loss aversion strategy if you find you have a problem resisting something. For example, try giving a friend a dollar every time they see you drinking soda with a meal.

Control your portions. 

It’s only human to go for the unhealthy options here and there. And that can fit completely into a healthy lifestyle. But one tip is to watch the portions of those. If you’re eating a really healthy meal, take a little less than you normally would and then get a salad on the side. Or share a slice of cake with your roommate or whoever’s eating with you. This way, you can fit your favorite treats in throughout the week without compromising on eating healthy. 

Treat yourself.

Treat meals or “cheat meals” are important for any healthy diet goal. They help keep you sane. When you know you get to have that unhealthy meal at the end of the week, you’re less likely to crave it throughout the week. Plan one to two a week, at a time you know you’ll usually be tempted. For a lot of people, this means planning cheat meals for the weekends. 

College is the time to have the most fun of your life. You shouldn’t feel deprived of your favorite foods when trying to eat healthy. With these tips for how to eat healthy in a college dining hall, you’re sure to reach your health goals while leaving room to be flexible here and there.