Exploring the healthy side of Leonard cafeteria

Many first-year students learn the hard way that the “Freshman Fifteen” isn’t just a myth. With a meal plan that presents unlimited junk food options, it’s no surprise the healthy eating habits of home fall by the wayside.

Public Health Dietician Heather McMillan accompanied me to Leonard Cafeteria to assess what was on the menu.

“Always take a look all around the caf and see what you really want to eat instead of sampling,” McMillan said.

Not only does this prevent overconsumption, but it also avoids food waste. This is a good way to avoid loading your tray with dishes you will either eat or waste before you have seen all that is available.

Students should aim to cover three out of the four food groups with each meal and use the Canada Food Guide to balance their plates, McMillan said.

Half a plate should be portioned for vegetables and fruit, one quarter for grains and one quarter for meat and alternatives. Round out the meal with a glass of milk.

“The salad bar looked really good,” McMillan said. “If the salad is your meal, add one of the lean proteins.” At Leonard, tofu, kidney beans and chick peas are offered at the salad bar. Opt for the vinaigrette-based dressings as the creamy ones usually contain more fat.

McMillan also recommended the grain salads, like the Mediterranean couscous salad. They contain vegetables and are a convenient way to cover two food groups.

“Burgers are not something you want to be eating every day,” McMillan said at the grill section. If you are going to eat there, always ask for a whole wheat bun and add veggies from the salad bar to your burger.

“Veggie burgers can also be a lower fat alternative,” McMillan said.

When choosing a hot meal option, go for the meal with the most vegetables. I chose a vegetarian chilli that had lean proteins and a couple of servings of vegetables in the meal alone.

McMillan also recommended stir fries as a healthy and convenient option. They cover three food groups and include vegetables and lean proteins.

“Sandwiches are also great. There were whole wheat breads and pitas available,” she said.

“I would suggest choosing one of the leaner meats, such as the turkey or tuna instead of the salami. Add vegetables to the sandwich, or round your meal out with a salad or a piece of fruit.”

During my first year, I definitely ended up eating a slice of pizza as an appetizer to most meals. “Pizza is not something you want to be eating every day,” McMillan said. “However, you can make it a better choice by selecting whole wheat crust and healthier toppings.” For desserts, keep the portion sizes small. McMillan recommended the milk-based pudding as a good option.

“Don't try and swear off everything as ultimately you'll probably go for it anyways.”

Though fruit juices often count as a serving of fruit, only take a small cup and dilute with water. The milks are always a good choice, said McMillan, adding that drinking pop only contributes sugar to your diet.

McMillan also noted that as a stop on the way out of the cafeteria, the fruit bar offers a healthy snack option for the end of a meal or for later on in the day.

“You want to make sure you’re having a well-balanced meal if you’re going to be in class for a few hours,” McMillan said.

Tips to keep in mind while eating in Queen’s cafeterias:

• Whole wheat: Always select the whole wheat option. More fibre will keep you full longer and will help your digestive system stay moving.

• Portion control: It’s better to take a smaller portion first. If you’re still hungry afterwards, you can always grab more.

• Fruits and vegetables: Always find ways to add them to your meals. Chances are you’re not getting enough.

• Variety: This goes especially for meats and alternatives. Choose lean proteins when possible. Examples include skinless chicken, turkey, fish, tofu, beans and chick peas.

Anyone can call EatRight Ontario at 1-877-510-5102 with any questions about nutrition.

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