How to Choose Clean Foods in the Cafeteria


It’s back to school time!! I’m back on campus for my last year of college. I live in the dorms, so I don’t have a kitchen to cook my own clean meals. I have a full meal plan, so I have to be careful when eating in the cafeteria to be sure I choose clean foods. I’m fortunate that the cafeteria on my campus is very nice compared to other schools. They buy all their meat, eggs, poultry, fish, and produce locally, and they claim they make everything from scratch (even though I highly doubt it). Anyway, in the cafeteria, it can be tempting to go through the pizza line or swing by the dessert section, but that’s not clean! It is possible to eat clean in the cafeteria, even though it takes some work and creativity to come up with a filling, clean, delicious meal.

Reach for these foods:

  • broth-based soups
  • veggies on the salad bar
  • grilled chicken breast
  • fresh-cut lunch meat
  • brown rice
  • whole wheat pasta
  • steamed vegetables
  • fresh fruit
  • black coffee
  • hot tea
  • oatmeal
  • water
  • marinara sauce
  • salsa
  • nuts
  • steel-cut oats
  • dried fruit (avoid craisins, banana chips, and pineapple)
  • grilled fish
  • Mongolian BBQ station (with extra veggies and NO sauce)
  • quinoa
  • steamed corn on the cob
  • eggs
  • olive oil
  • guacamole
  • corn tortillas
  • sweet potatoes
  • fruit salsa
  • hummus
  • beans (avoid traditional baked beans)

Avoid these foods:

  • store-bought bread (even ones marked whole wheat)
  • white pasta
  • white rice
  • fried foods
  • mayonnaise-based salads (pasta salad, macaroni salad, etc.)
  • cheesy foods
  • cream-based soups
  • dessert section
  • wraps (even ones marked whole wheat)
  • processed lunch meat
  • flour tortillas
  • white potatoes
  • pop, juice, iced tea, sports drinks, etc.
  • coffee creamer or half and half
  • alfredo sauce
  • pizza
  • croutons
  • biscuits and gravy
  • bacon
  • cereal (almost all kinds have additives and sugars)
  • salad dressings
  • most condiments (ketchup, BBQ, mayonnaise, hot sauce, etc.)
  • bagels
  • jelly/jam
  • peanut butter (most likely it’s not all natural)
  • crackers

Be careful with these foods:

  • vegan/vegetarian foods (just because they’re marked ‘vegan’ or ‘vegetarian’ doesn’t make them clean)
  • tofu (highly processed)
  • veggie pizza (still has cheese)
  • canned fruits (can be full of sugar)
  • smoothies (might have sugar)
  • veggie & cheese soup
  • “whole wheat” grains (most still use half white flour)
  • gluten-free foods (just because they’re marked ‘gluten-free’ doesn’t make them clean)
  • healthy-looking cereal (most are not clean)
  • buttered/glazed veggies
  • yogurt (most kinds are loaded with additives and sugar)
  • applesauce (chances are, it’s got added sugar)

I hope these lists help you in your quest to choose clean foods in your cafeteria! I realize some cafeterias might not have as many healthy options as others, so it can be a challenge. Good luck with clean eating, and good luck with the new school year!!

Did I forget anything on any of the lists? Let me know in the comments!



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