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We are going to go ahead and assume that the plate on your cafeteria tray does not closely follow the suggested daily intake of 30% protein, 30% fat, and 40% carbohydrates. We also might assume that your plate does not look as neat, organized, or balanced as the one pictured below, which is proposed by the Choose My Plate campaign as a perfectly proportioned meal:

Choose My Plate

(Image via Choose My Plate)

In fact, your food choices probably look more like this. We get it, no one is reaching for quinoa when the drunchies hit, but it may do you good to at least be informed. That means knowing that the waffle machine in your dining hall isn’t cranking out the whole grains your body needs to fill its daily carbohydrate quota, and neither is the mac and cheese pizza (yep, it exists) .

Curious what a “good carb” looks like? How about a “good fat”? We promise they exist. And they don’t taste like cardboard or cat food. Here are a few examples.

1. Good Carbs

We could start by telling you that fruits and vegetables are carbohydrates, but you’d probably stop reading, immediately. It is true that these food groups consist of quality carbohydrates, but we can’t exactly advise you to replace brownies with Brussels sprouts….

Fresh veg

(Image via Icing Designs)

Rather, we are trying to get you to substitute that major block of refined carbs in your diet–the cookies, cakes and stacks of sliced white bread that you not-so-slyly slip into your backpack at the dining hall (yes, we see you)–with better whole grain options.

Try ditching that piled-high plate of cinnamon chip (and raspberry/white chocolate and blueberry) scones and instead opt for oatmeal. Steel-cut oats are the best variety–they offer the highest carbohydrate, protein, and fiber values–but we are definitely not going to blame you for picking up some simple Quaker Oats from CVS. Let’s not get too crazy. And no, we are not asking you to sit down to a bowl of dry, bland oats and call it a magical morning. Word to the wise: add toppings and then add more! We will even allow chocolate. Sprinkle chopped nuts, raisins, chocolate chips, fresh fruit, shredded coconut, chia seeds, honey, maple syrup, or peanut butter (or all of the above?!) to ensure you make it to lunchtime without a hangry breakdown. Ok, chia seeds may be a stretch for a cafeteria offering, but a health nerd can dream.

 Quaker Oats

(Image via Quaker Oats)

2. Good Fats

Yes, good fats exist. You just won’t find them here (though deep-fried batter balls sound good, Brazil). Healthy fats are the monounsaturated and polyunsaturated varieties, but who really remembers words that long these days? Is there an iPhone keyboard shortcut for that or what? Easier still is committing to memory a few staple foods that, when eaten in moderation, will pack a nutritional punch that will fuel your body. So, no, don’t eat four avocados in one sitting, but yes, do add it to your salads, sandwiches, and (be bold!) smoothies. Skip the daily french fries and “mini” muffins. Those become the bad guys in the long term. These are the good guys:


 (Image via Health

Other options that provide beneficial fats–and are likely to be found in your dining hall (you don’t have safflower oil? Really?)– are olive oil, peanut butter, olives, nuts, soy milk, and tofu. If you are one of those people who refuses to eat tofu, we are judging you. It is literally tasteless.

So, there you have it, a few harmless dining hall food swaps for you to test out. Don’t give us the “It’s summer, I won’t be back in a cafeteria until September” line. Believe it or not, you can try oatmeal during the summer, too. Eat it cold. Problem solved.

What healthy food swaps will you try in the dining hall?

feature photo via thinkstock