Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Cindy Barr

Want to eat healthier and make the most of your university meal plan? Here are our best hacks for personalizing your college cafeteria experience to best suite your tastes.

November 16, 2016

This week,

 Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Cindy Barr

My college cafeteria always offered hard-boiled eggs at the salad bar station, and while I dropped them on my greens fairly often, a smart way to change up the same-old flavor profile (while still getting the protein and other nutrients that eggs offer) is turning those hard-boiled beauties into egg salad. Hard-boiling eggs is the first step to making egg salad, so the cafeteria already did half the work for you. To make it, coarsely cut up hard-boiled eggs using a fork, then mix with a sprinkle of salt and pepper plus a dollop of something creamy--like sour cream, mashed avocodo, and/or plain Greek yogurt--and boom, you're ready to load up a sandwich or wrap.

3. Swap bread for a tortilla.

 Photo: José Picayo

Let's face it: Sandwiches can get boring, and all that white bread day after day isn't the healthiest option out there. Now I love me a good sandwich, and I'm not saying that bread is evil. But, if they're available, try grabbing a tortilla instead--whole-wheat if your cafeteria offers them--and roll up a fresh wrap loaded with sandwich meat, lettuce, cheese, vegggies, and hummus. It saves you carbs and simply switching up the vessel can keep your lunchtime routine from getting stale. Pro tip: Fold over your tortilla and pop it in the toaster (or microwave for a few seconds) and then fill it up for a warm, toasty wrap.


4. Ditch the soda for seltzer + juice.

Water can get boring, I get it. And while the temptation for a fizzy beverage every once in awhile is real--take it from someone who has a soda fountain 10 steps from her in the office at all times--you can avoid some sugar by mixing your own fizzy beverage with carbonated water and a splash of juice for flavor. Got any fresh berries? Stir them in, and you're practically a caf mixologist.

5. #ParfaitAllDay.

My college cafeteria offered yogurt all day long, and a loaded-up parfait was my standard caf creation as a filling breakfast or afternoon energy booster (I'd make it a mini for an afternoon snack). I grabbed fresh or dried berries, granola-esque cereal from the always-available cereal bins, and peanut butter from the sandwich area to create a filling, protein-packed meal in minutes. P.S. If you've never tried mixing peanut butter into your me on this one. It's. Life. Changing.

6. Dress up plain oatmeal (and we're not talking brown sugar).

 Photo: Jennifer Causey; Styling: Claire Spollen

Oatmeal is a great choice for a heart-healthy, fiber-packed meal, but it's almost unbearably bland on its own. So dice up an apple, grab some nuts from the salad bar, stir in a spoonful of nut butter, add some fresh or dried fruit, drizzle with honey, sprinkle with cocoa, and/or add a splash of milk. There are endless options to personalize it for breakfast or even lunch and dinner--heard of

 Photo: Brian Woodcock; Styling: Cindy Barr 

Lettuce isn't just for salads--you can skip the bread and tortillas all-together and make your own lettuce wraps. Be sure to use sturdy greens with thick ribs like iceberg or bibb, and then fill with warm ingredients like roasted veggies, ground beef or grilled chicken, and beans before sprinkling with a little cheese and adding a spoonful of sour cream (or plain Greek yogurt if it's available). For Asian-inspired lettuce wraps, you can make your own peanut sauce by warming peanut butter in the microwave and stirring in canola oil, soy sauce, and a little hot sauce. You can also make cold cut roll-ups with deli turkey or ham + salad bar fixin's (like shaved carrots, cucumbers, sliced bell pepper, hummus, and diced avocado).

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