Healthy Eating at UConn

10 Steps To Eating Well at All UConn Dining Services Residential Dining Units

UConn Dining offers a multitude of healthy dining choices. This guide can help you choose a healthy diet that will strengthen your immune system, prevent undesired weight gain and supply your body with adequate nutrients for health and better mental and physical performance. All foods can fit into a balanced diet. Eating frequency and portion size are critical factors in maintaining health. Download the pdf.

1. Choose Vegetables First

Aim for at least 2½ cups of vegetables each day. A diet rich in a spectrum of colors provides important vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytochemicals (compounds produced by plants that are important for health). At UConn’s eight residential dining units, a wide variety of vegetable options are always available to help you reach your nutrition goals. Creating a large salad at lunch or dinner from the more than 40 items offered on the salad bars can boost your daily vegetable intake.

Throughout the week, choose an assortment of vegetables with different colors, including cauliflower (white), corn (yellow), carrots (orange), bell peppers (red), broccoli (green) and eggplant (purple). Picking a vegetable first, by stopping at the vegetarian stations or salad bars, will make your meal healthy from the start. Most of the hot vegetables served by UConn Dining are steamed without added butter or oils, so they are low in calories and fat-free. All of the eight residential dining units offer at least two choices of hot vegetables at lunch and dinner every day.

2. Make Half Your Grains Whole

Eat at least half of your grain choices (bread, cereals, rice, pasta) as whole grains with a minimum of three servings daily. Whole grains contain more fiber and nutrients than refined grains like white bread and white rice, and they should replace refined grains whenever possible. A slice of whole wheat bread, for example, contains about twice the fiber of a slice of white bread and has many vitamins and minerals, including several B vitamins, vitamin E, and magnesium, which get lost in processing. A diet rich in whole grains is believed to reduce the risk of heart disease. Starting your day with a bowl of whole-grain cereal for breakfast is a delicious way to reach your whole grain goal. Choose ready-to-eat cereals labeled “whole grain” or try a bowl of hot oatmeal which is a 100% whole grain food. Whole-grain cereal paired with milk makes a nutritious snack anytime.

Organic whole grains, including brown rice, barley, quinoa, wheat berries, and bulgur, are found on the vegetarian lines in all eight dining units. Whole wheat bread, rolls, tortillas, and pasta are available daily as well. Look for whole wheat in the nutrient list or on our website to identify whole grain bread.

3. Bulk Up on Fiber

Include fiber-rich cereals to boost fiber intake. Meeting your daily fiber needs is important to help maintain your weight, keep your gastrointestinal tract regular, and lower blood cholesterol. Aim for at least 20 grams of fiber daily. To get those 20 grams, choose cereals that contain at least 3 grams of fiber per serving such as Grape Nuts, All-Bran, or Raisin Bran. All-Bran provides the most fiber of all breakfast cereals offered at UConn (10 grams of fiber per ½ cup serving). If your favorite cereal is not a good source of fiber, try mixing it with a high-fiber cereal and adding fresh fruit. Hot oatmeal is also a great whole-grain, high-fiber option. Try sprinkling fresh or dried fruit and nuts onto oatmeal for a filling, nutritious breakfast.

Beans and legumes are also excellent sources of fiber. Try adding chickpeas or red kidney beans to a salad and including black beans in your wrap or quesadilla. Choosing whole fruits, vegetables, and nuts as snacks will also help you reach your fiber goal.

If you are increasing the amount of fiber you eat, make sure to drink more water to keep things moving along.

4. Add Healthy Fats to Salads

Enjoy healthy fats with your salads to promote better absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E and K). Adding a tablespoon or two of oil-based salad dressing or tossing slices of avocado into your salad provides heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Also try one tablespoon of chopped nuts or sunflower seeds in your salad to get your poly and monounsaturated fats and protein. Although including it is certainly important, only a small amount of fat is needed to reap the benefits.

Selecting a reduced-fat dressing will save you about half the calories of a full-fat dressing. The serving size of most salad dressings is 2 tablespoons, with calories per serving ranging from about 80 to 180, depending on what you choose. A variety of salad dressings, including low-fat and fat-free options, are available in the dining units. The light olive oil vinaigrette is a good reduced calorie choice as it has about half the fat of most dressings, is low in sugar, and has only moderate sodium. Read the salad dressing labels to understand which choices are lower in calories, total and saturated fat.

5. Include Omega-3

Consume fish at least twice a week to decrease your risk of cardiovascular disease. Choosing fish instead of other meats can lower your saturated fat intake and help lower blood cholesterol. The heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids found in some oily fish are not produced by the body and must be derived from food. Make a conscious effort to eat 4 ounces of salmon weekly, and you will be rewarded with a rich source of omega-3 that is as healthy as it is delicious.

What if you don’t like fish? If you can’t tolerate canned tuna, salmon, or other fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids, include alternative sources in your diet. Walnuts and flax seeds provide omega-3, as do canola oil, tofu, and leafy greens such as spinach and kale.

6. Pick Whole Fruits

Complete the total package with whole fruits: a rich source of vitamins and fiber and a contribution toward hydration. Fruits are naturally excellent sources of the antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals that protect the body’s cells from free-radical damage. Free radicals are unstable molecules that can harm cells unless they are stabilized. Some free radicals naturally occur in the body and do not cause health problems, but others, such as those from pollutants, chemicals, cigarette smoke, or other toxins, can result in damage to the body’s cells, which may lead to physical signs of aging and increased risk for certain chronic diseases including heart disease and cancer.

Consuming ample dietary antioxidants naturally found in fruits and vegetables helps protect the body from free-radical damage, and reduces chronic disease risk. Unlike dietary supplements, whole fruits contain a balance of the vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals that work together most effectively.

Enjoy whole fruits with at least two of your daily meals. Apples, bananas, pears, oranges, kiwi, and grapefruit are offered throughout the year. Seasonal choices, including peaches, plums, nectarines, clementines, melons, and strawberries are offered during their seasons.

Whole fruits make great grab-and-go snacks to eat between classes or in your dorm room late in the evening. All eight dining units allow you to take one piece of fruit with you as you leave the unit.

7. Keep Bones Strong With Calcium and Vitamin D

Select low-fat and non-fat dairy foods and drinks as well as dairy alternatives like calcium-fortified soy milk or rice milk to get the best sources of calcium and vitamin D. Consuming adequate calcium is critical to bone health but vitamin D plays an important role. Vitamin D actually aids in the absorption of calcium.

Vitamin D is found in few foods besides milk and other fortified dairy products and some oily fish like salmon. Although vitamin D can be produced by the body through sun exposure, during the winter months in Connecticut, the sunlight is not strong enough for vitamin D production, so a vitamin D supplement may be needed. Adding milk (or a milk alternative) to your morning cereal, drinking a glass of milk with a meal, or eating a bowl of yogurt will contribute to your daily calcium and vitamin D needs.

The college years are a critical time to reach peak bone mass, making adequate calcium and vitamin D intake especially important. Students should try to include at least three servings of milk or dairy alternatives daily. Tofu, yogurt, and cheese are also good sources of calcium and Vitamin D. Some vegetables, such as broccoli and bok choy, are acceptable calcium sources, but they are much smaller contributors than dairy or fortified dairy alternatives.

8. Limit High-Fat & High-Sugar Foods

Take care with certain foods that should be eaten in smaller amounts. All foods can be part of a balanced diet, but remember to limit high-fat choices, such as fried foods, to a few times during the week. Lowering your saturated fat intake by cutting back on fatty meats and cheeses will also help reduce your risk of developing high blood cholesterol and heart disease. Note that UConn uses 100% canola oil, a heart-healthy trans-fat-free vegetable oil, for cooking and frying foods.

Incorporating vegetarian meals into your repertoire can reduce the amount of animal protein you eat while providing benefits for health as well as for the environment. Vegetarians typically have lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure than non-vegetarians, and they experience lower rates of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. In addition, replacing meat with vegetarian foods reduces our carbon footprint and decreases water and fossil fuel usage. All of our dining units offer a plethora of vegetarian options.

When you do eat meat, choose lean options frequently, such as a turkey burger or grilled chicken breast instead of a cheeseburger or fried chicken patty. All eight dining units offer lean meat choices including turkey, pork, and beef cuts. Veggie burgers and salmon burgers are also healthy, lean protein choices.

Try to keep discretionary calories (from desserts or snack foods that provide little nutritional value) to about 10% of your overall intake. Enjoy desserts in moderation by referencing the serving size for the nutritional facts listed.

For an average person consuming 2,000 calories per day, the discretionary allowance is 200 calories. As a reference, a small cookie from one of the dining units is 130 calories. The non-fat frozen yogurt and low-fat soft-serve ice cream are low-calorie treats that also provide calcium. Use a small dessert bowl, coffee mug or cone to “measure” your deserts and stick to a moderate portion.

9. UConn’s Nutritive Analysis Program

UConn’s comprehensive Nutritive Analysis Program makes it easy to find the nutrition facts for the foods served at UConn dining.

At the eight residential dining units, menu cards provide ingredients for foods served at meals. You can also go online to find the nutrient profile for a particular meal. On the UConn website,, we are proud to offer a useful nutrition analysis tool that allows you to review menus and access nutrition facts, ingredients, and allergens.

To access this tool from the main web page, click on “Menus & Nutrition” then click “Menus & Nutrition Information” in the dropdown box. Click on the dining location for the menu you would like to view. The screen has three meals - breakfast, lunch, and dinner - across the top as well as a listing of menu options for that day. At the top, you will see a green apple. Click on the apple to see a list of food items. To start your selections, click the small box to the left of each item and then enter the quantity to the right. After checking your foods, scroll down and click “Show Report” to see the nutritional information of the menu items you have chosen.

10. Balance Healthy Eating With Exercise

Healthy eating should be coupled with regular exercise to attain overall wellness. Aim for 60 minutes of exercise for 3-5 days per week. Regular exercise can include hundreds of activities ranging from jogging, bike riding, rock climbing, weight lifting, yoga, etc. Switching up your mode of exercise will not only keep your workouts fun and engaging, but will challenge your body to adapt to the new exercise. Regular exercise can dramatically decrease the risk of chronic diseases such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers.

UConn Recreation offers many opportunities for students to engage in regular exercise including; group fitness classes, cardiovascular and strength training, competitive sports, cycling, swimming, rock climbing, hiking, 5k runs, and so much more! The full-service Student Recreation Center offers a range of cardio and strength equipment, basketball, badminton, pickleball and racquetball courts, a bouldering wall, and two group fitness studios. The Student Recreation Center is committed to providing exceptional programming and services, so we may continue to be a vital component of campus life and serve as the location “where the student body develops.” To learn more, visit or call (860) 486-0002.