Let’s face it, the cafeteria can be many things— scary, delicious, exciting, nerve-racking, and confusing! Whether you are at school or your company’s lunchroom, not only is it hard finding nutritious options in the cafeteria, but it can be tricky finding self-control amongst the shelves filled with tempting chips, cookies, pizza, and french fries. We hope to make it easier with some tips and nutritious cafeteria recipes you can use anywhere.

What Does Your Body Need to Feel Full?

Have you ever eaten those easy-to-grab items for lunch and felt tired or cranky afterwards? Maybe you even needed a snack an hour later? That might actually be because of seemingly simple choices made in the cafeteria; however, with more knowledge to make small adjustments, you can spend less on food and feel fuller! 

To start with the basics, in order to feel full, the body needs a meal that is balanced nutritionally. That means a balanced amount of protein, complex carbohydrates, and fat! This healthy eating graphic goes more in-depth on different examples of these elements and what a balanced meal looks like on your plate. Next time you’re in the cafeteria, look for foods like yogurt, avocados, oatmeal, and nuts to help balance your plate to give you that energy burst to make it through that post-lunch slump and last you until your next meal. 

Another factor that goes into making the body feel full is managing blood sugar. When we eat simple carbohydrates (white bread, candy, soft drinks, cookies), our blood sugar rises quickly as that sugar is easy for our body to break down, therefore allowing it to hit the bloodstream fast. Consuming too many of these simple carbohydrates too quickly can lead to feelings of tiredness and hunger again when the blood sugar level drops again 30-60 minutes later. To avoid this, think about incorporating more complex carbohydrates into your meals like whole wheat bread, brown rice, vegetables, and potatoes which will gradually increase blood sugar rather than spike it. 

You can find all of this information and more on how to feel full HERE from another FEI article! 

How to Apply This in the Cafeteria  

Now that you know some tips for how to keep your body full, it’s important to apply them to your everyday eating—especially in the cafeteria! 

First off, if you ever feel overwhelmed or extremely hungry when you enter the lunchroom, try to take a step back and determine how hungry you really are, and what is going to fulfill that hunger the best. Even though our minds know what is good for us, it is common for people to make unhealthy food choices when they act without thinking or act impulsively

After evaluating your hunger, choose foods that are in your price range and fulfill criteria for a balanced meal. Looking at nutrition labels on pre-packaged items is very helpful in regulating how you are fueling your body. If you want some tips on how to read and understand nutrition facts labels, check out this article. 

2 Nutritious Cafeteria Recipes

Being a college student myself, I know what it’s like to enter a daunting cafeteria. Here are two meals I have put together in cafeterias past: 

Chicken & Veggie Tacos/Wrap

I grabbed a whole wheat tortilla from the sandwich station and warmed it up in the microwave. This served as my complex carbohydrate for this meal. I then went over to the salad bar and added some shredded lettuce, grilled chicken, cheese, peppers, and onions for fiber and protein. If they had salsa or sour cream, I also would have put that on my plate to make a taco. As a side, I paired a pre-packaged fresh fruit salad my cafeteria offered and a Cliff Bar for extra fiber to hold me over until my next meal. It was both delicious and super filling!

Breakfast Sandwich

Don’t ever skip the most important meal of the day! A simple yet filling breakfast I often bought in the cafeteria was a vanilla flavored Greek yogurt (along with strawberries to put in it), and a breakfast sandwich on an English muffin with sausage, egg, and cheese inside. The English muffin is a great example of a complex carb for its low fat and whole grains, you receive fiber from the Greek yogurt, and protein from the sausage and egg. You will be full and fueled for the day after this meal!

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