Staying Primal in the Dining Hall: A Meal-by-Meal Guide

The dining hall at Bowdoin College in Maine is rated #2 on CollegeProwler.com.

With all of the different, sometimes confusing options offered in college dining halls, how is it even possible to stay Primal in college? There’s the sandwich line, vegan options, the entree bar, the cereal bar, dessert bar, and salad bar (mmm. . . salad. . .). It seems as though there’s a lot of bars to choose from, but which ones should you avoid and which ones should you definitely make daily visits to? Great thing you asked! Because Caveman College is about to clue you in on exactly how to do that. We’re here to give you a meal-by-meal (and even some snacking tips!) plan to follow to ensure 

Breakfast

Your alarm goes off. Usually too early. It may still be dark outside, but you’ve got class in an hour and have to shower, shave, do your makeup, straighten your hair, and whatever your day calls for. Wait! What about breakfast? So there’s that too, and the dining hall is a great place to grab some great grub before you head out to a long day of classes and labs.

The Plan: Focus on Macronutrients (FOM)

Start with protein. Are there eggs available? If so, I would go ahead and devour 3-5 of those (5 especially if they are regular white eggs). If you have an omelet station in your dining hall, grab an omelet with as many veggies as the cook will shove in there.

Quick Tip: Sometimes the cook will spray the grill with aerosols containing less-than ideal fats and chemicals you definitely don’t want in your omelet. If it is possible, ask the chef to prepare your omelet without spraying the grill or by melting some butter on the grill instead.

Next get your carbohydrates. Carbohydrates will help resupply energy stores and get you going for the long day ahead. Grab some fruit if available; berries are the most desirable due to their anti oxidative properties, however if they are not available to you, pitted fruits, apples, bananas, and pears are all great fruits to mix in. Just be sure to remember that if you want to be in the weight-loss/fat burning sweet spot, you’ll want to stay between 50 and 100 grams of carbs daily. So don’t totally pig out on bananas and apples at breakfast. If you are not concerned with losing weight and want to maintain your current weight, 100-150 grams of carbs a-day will be sufficient for you, so you have a little more wiggle room in terms of carbohydrates.

Carbs are not limited to fruits! Breakfast is also a great time to crush some vegetables. As I mentioned above, the omelet station is often the best place if you’re looking for cooked veggies. If veggies are not available to you for breakfast, don’t worry, you’ve got lunch and dinner to make up for it. And trust me, you’ll get plenty of veggies at those meals.

Time to get fat. Get fat?! I thought this was a primal site! Why would I want to get fat?? I’m talking about taking some healthy fats. If you’re looking for more details about what fats are good for you and bad for you, look here. But basically, if there’s bacon, grab a few slices (only a few because they’re most likely loaded with sodium). Same goes for sausage. It may not be the best quality pig, but you’re mixing in some fat to your diet as well as getting protein.

Quick Tip: In most college environments, you will not be served pastured pork, as it is simply too expensive to serve on a large scale. So be careful with the grain-fed pork bacon and sausage and be sure to include a fish-oil in your daily supplementation in order to balance out those pro-inflammatory Omega-6’s.

So now that you have a full plate of delicious foods you’re definitely drooling over, what’s left? It’s time . . . to choose a beverage! Drinks are often overlooked as a source of unhealthy ingredients, but if you start downing 3 glasses of Powerade at 7 a.m, you’re going to do some major damage in the long-run (did you know a lot of Powerade flavors are sweetened by high-fructose corn-syrup?). Certain sugary drinks were actually recently banned in New York City by Mayor Bloomberg because of the role they play in rising obesity rates! While you enjoy your green omelet, try sipping a nice cold glass of water, or even some non-sweetened iced tea! If you had a late night and need a boost, go for a cup or two of coffee (check out why coffee can benefit you).

Oh my, look at the time. You’re about to miss class! Finish eating and don’t be late!

Lunch

The Plan: B.A.S. (Big Ass Salad)

Big-ass salad

YES. It’s that time. It’s time for you to grab a plate (or two if they’re as small as they are at Dickinson) and throw on as much salad as you can and devour it like a proper caveman would. Okay, okay, so maybe be a little bit more sophisticated than that, but you get the point. Focus on color. The more colors you have on your plate or in your bowl, the better. Spinach, kale, and other lettuce greens are all great bases to  build a towering salad over. Peppers, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower, beets, onions and mushrooms are just a handful of possible ingredients for your salad. Mix and match and rotate these daily depending on your mood (after all, sometimes you just aren’t in a beet kind of mood).

Next, get your protein fix. There should be tuna, chicken, turkey, or some other source of protein available to you either in the salad bar itself, or in the entree buffet. Either way, grab a solid portion of protein and toss it atop your colorful masterpiece.

You’re almost done. Time for the dressing. No, not the pre-made honey-mustard or ranch packets that probably taste good but are ultimately nothing more than poison in disguise. I would suggest reaching for olive oil and vinegar. If you’re at a salad bar, they most likely have these two condiments available, and if not, I would ask the chef. To get a great tasting dressing, toss 2 portions of olive oil for 1 portion of vinegar.

Optional fix-ins: If you’re in a crunchy mood, adding sunflower seeds, almonds, or other nuts (besides cashews and peanuts!) and seeds are great ways to add some zing to your salad.

Dinner

The Plan: Listen to Your Body, Practice Control

Not everyone is hungry for dinner. That’s cool in the primal world. We’re all about listening to what your body tells you. Never force yourself to eat because you think it’s “dinner time.” You may have had a huge lunch and just aren’t hungry dinner, or maybe you have an evening class. What ever it may be, dinner is optional. After all, integrating intermittent fasting into your daily life can be extremely beneficial to your fat burning process.

That being said, some of us, like me, are usually hungry when the dinner bell rings. For us, thank god for the dining hall. The salad bar is generally still open, there is a protein on the grill and the entree might be something other than pizza and french fries if you’re lucky. There may also be cooked vegetables or vegetables available in stir-fry. So don’t be shy, and fill half your plate with a large portion of vegetables. As always, try to get as many colors as possible when dealing with veggies.

Next, focus on protein. Try to eat as much fish as you can when it’s offered in the dining hall, as that will help you balance out the high omega-6 fat levels that are in a lot of the rest of the dining hall food. When fish is not an option, grab some beef, chicken, lamb, duck, whatever. If you’re primal, any meat, fish, or fowl is your treasure trove to choose from. Take a portion which will satisfy your craving (it may be 2, 3, or 4 chicken breasts, just take some protein down).

Dinner is NOT the time to be chowing down on tons of heavy carbohydrates or sugars like fruits, especially if you’re trying to be in super fat-burning mode. However, if you just worked out, or are on a carb re-feed day, you may want to include a sweet potato in your meal every once in a while.

Again, let’s look at fat. Most of the time, you’ll get fat from the steak, chicken or fish you eat, but in case they aren’t fat-filled feasts, toss a bit of butter on your meat, fish or fowl and you’ll know you added some primal lovin’ to your meal. Butter may be a better choice for fat than bacon and sausage in this case because of the possible lack of pastured pork. Just be sure not to overdo it and load up on salt.

The “Cheat” Day

The Plan: Cheat Smart, Don’t Regret It

A lot of “diets” include cheating in their program in order to better transition one from an unhealthy to a healthy eating style. Primal eating is no different. The 80/20 principle was designed more as a crutch for those who are just beginning with the lifestyle shift, in order to make the switch more fluid. As you become more accustomed to eating Primally, the foods included in 80/20 become more “healthy” (alternative, Primally constructed desserts and candies), however there is still room for the occassional splurge.

We all go on vacations, out to large dinners, once-in-a-lifetime trips, whatever it may be, during those experiences, food is usually included. Vacation seems to be the number one place for people to “cheat.” You may think, Oh, I’m only gone for 2 weeks, it can’t be that bad for me. But as soon as you step into the deep, dark territory that is junk food, it’s hard to go back. Taking down 1000s of calories in ice cream and cake on a cruise ship for 14 days in a row will undoubtably take a toll on your weight, immune function, and overall health.

So Caveman College proposes a “cheating” system that allows for dessert, but asks for you to take it one step further. Yes, grabbing an ice cream every so often will [most likely] not kill you and is actually pretty delicious, but DO NOT make it a regular habit. If you choose to pig out on dessert, do it consciously, knowing that that is your one day out of 10 or 20 or however many to eat some crap. Don’t feel bad about it, just realize what you’re doing and try to accept it. Guilt only leads to increased stress, stress causes cortisol levels to increase and that wreaks havoc in our brain and body; there’s no room for added stress in a young caveman’s life.

If you really want to challenge yourself, and you have the facilities and equipment to do so, make the desserts a little more Primal by cooking them yourself. If you have a freezer, coconut milk, and an ice cream machine, crank out a few gallons of ice cream to keep in the freezer for those days you’re really craving. The same goes for brownies, cakes, cookies and whatever else you’re dying to whip up; do it yourself and you can guarantee the ingredients will be natural!

The Final Word

So we’ve given you the blueprint, now it’s time for you to try it yourself. Don’t be afraid to try new things. You may actually like brussel sprouts despite the many childhood protests against them (as I discovered!). You might actually think sweatbreads taste like chicken. Who knows! The opportunities are endless when you go Primal, so always try new things and you’ll constantly be excited by new and interesting flavors!

Grok on!

Now it’s your turn. How are you implementing these strategies into your life? Drop us a comment below.

About The Author

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As a recent recent high school graduate, I've seen a lot of kids struggling with health and fitness over my years in school. I went Primal when my physical trainer helped me really focus on my physical well-being in training for my baseball career. I credit a large percentage of my health and well being on and off the baseball field to my Primal lifestyle. An idea came to the my mind to create a website where kids going into college could find great information on health and nutrition as well as functional fitness. I am extremely excited to be able to write about health in the college world, as a lot of times kids forget how to eat healthy when they go off to the college world. While we saw this as an opportunity to reach out to the college world, we also wanted this site to be a resource for people of all ages struggling with their health as a place for them to go and find great resources and information. Feel free to email me or Max at cavemancollege@gmail.com with any questions you may have. Email Josh at joshsinger11@gmail.com.

4 Responses

  1. Stephanie
    Stephanie October 3, 2012 at 1:25 pm | | Reply

    I’d offer one more tip: pay attention (or better yet, ask) where the food is coming from. I used to think the dining hall eggs for breakfast were a great protein, until I saw them make them one morning and found out they were “egg product” from a carton. My best solution to this and other problems was to make friends with the staff. They were more than willing to make real eggs and other food exactly how I wanted them, all I had to do was ask!

    1. Jordan Tuwiner
      Jordan Tuwiner October 3, 2012 at 6:05 pm | | Reply

      Same thing happened with me, Stephanie!

      At my school they actually have regular eggs available at all of the omelet stations. I just get some scrambled eggs with tons of vegetables instead.

  2. Kyle Klingman
    Kyle Klingman October 7, 2012 at 11:27 pm | | Reply

    Man, am I happy that I didn’t know about eating paleo when I was living in the dorms. I probably wouldn’t have been able to eat any of the cafeteria food.

    I’m glad the article briefly mentioned IF (intermittent fasting). I adopted this a few months ago and I must say that not eating breakfast is AWESOME.

    I disagree with the recommendation for eating fish unless you can guarantee that the fish is wild caught / sustainably harvested / low mercury / etc.

    I also disagree with eating scrambled eggs or omelets. If you’re going to consume eggs they should be over easy or (even better) consume them raw. NOTE: consuming eggs raw should ONLY be done if they are certified organic eggs. Check this site to find some high quality eggs and hopefully you’ll be able to find them in a store close to you: http://www.cornucopia.org/organic-egg-scorecard/

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