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Make smart choices at campus cafeteria

Eating on a college campus can be both a challenge and a blessing. Cafeterias offer a bounty of food choices every day. Temptations like pizza and cookies abound, but there are also opportunities to choose healthier foods.

It has been a few years since I ate on a college campus, so I talked with food service directors and dietitians at three area universities: Katrina Goehring and Jeff Spangenberg at the University of Wisconsin-Superior; Claudia Engelmeier at the University of Minnesota Duluth; and Bruce Cvancara at the College of St. Scholastica.

On my campus tours, I was impressed by the many more opportunities for healthy eating than when I was in college. Staffs are working hard to provide more variety in foods at a good value and offering food at times that students need. They keep sustainability and good nutrition in the forefront. They also have the health and satisfaction of their students as top priorities.

Menu items are well-labeled with nutrition facts and also show whether they are vegan, gluten-free or whole-grain. Vegetarian options are available every day, so there's a great opportunity to do a few meatless days every week without extra effort.

Each campus is making a great effort to recognize food allergies and make it easier for students to eat safely. You'll find a separate food station for gluten-free options. There's soy milk or other milk alternatives. If you're a student with a food allergy, ask to meet with the campus dietitian or food service manager, so they can meet your needs.

Think of the dining hall as a college lab

You're at college to learn. Dining services offer a lot of information to help you teach yourself to eat healthy and discover new foods.

Give new foods a try. Set a goal to try one new food every week. If you don't like it after the first few bites, you don't have to finish it. Challenge your friends to do the same and post your experiences on your favorite social media.

Check out different dining options or stations instead of sticking with the one or two you became comfortable with in the first weeks of school. I was impressed with the brand-new Superior Dining Center at UMD. I'm tempted to return to sample the offerings at the Mongolian grill station.

Build your food confidence and you'll grow your self-confidence. When you make good food decisions, you teach yourself that you can be trusted to make other good decisions.

Find out where your food comes from. UMD has its own food farm, a 10-acre organic plot that has produced more than 30 tons of produce this year to feed students, faculty and staff. It is hard to get any more local than that.

Fuel for the brain

Eat something in the morning before your first class. Food is the fuel your brain needs to think.

Make time to eat. Don't go more than five hours without eating unless you're sleeping. If you skip meals, you may have trouble concentrating, get a headache or feel like you didn't get much out of the class. If you can't sit down for a meal, pack healthy snacks such as fruit, trail mix with lots of nuts, a sandwich or a low-sugar energy bar.

Stock up on healthy snacks for a late-night study session. Options include whole-grain crackers or chips, low-sugar energy bars, fresh fruit, high-fiber cereal, nuts, nut butters, oatmeal, popcorn, trail mix, hummus, yogurt and string cheese.

You can occasionally choose pizza, ice cream or buffalo wings, but don't over-indulge.

Make a healthy choice

Here are some suggestions for making healthier choices:

Instead of: Fried foods

Try: Grilled or baked foods

Why: Fewer calories, less bad fats. Lean proteins help build, maintain and heal muscles.

Instead of: Refined grains (such as white bread or white rice)

Try: Whole grains (wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal)

Why: Provide essential minerals and phytonutrients to maintain our metabolism and our brain power.

Instead of: Whole milk

Try: Low-fat milk, soy milk or almond milk

Why: Calcium helps build and maintain strong bones. Less fat.

Instead of: French fries

Try: Non-fried potato, sweet potato, corn or beans

Why: Provide vitamins, minerals and fiber without the extra fat. Very filling.

Instead of: Sweetened drinks

Try: Water or seltzer

Why: Cuts the sugar. High sugar intake is inflammatory to our bodies.

Instead of: Baked goods, ice cream and other specialty desserts

Try: Fruit

Why: Strive for 4-5 cups of fruits and or vegetables a day to provide for healthy skin, hair, nails and immune system.

On-campus contacts

• Katrina Goehring, Dietitian and food service manager at UWS, Katrina.Goehring@compass-usa.com

• Alyssa Hammitt, Student dietitian at UMD, wapp0016@d.umn.edu

• Bruce Cvancara, Food service director at CSS, bcvancara@css.edu or askthedietitian@aramark.com

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