Nutritionists recommend getting a variety of food groups in every meal. Credit: Soliyah Stevens-Ogaz | For The Lantern

With countless local restaurants and nearly 30 dining halls offering infinite burgers and endless ice cream, it can be tough for students to make healthy choices.

Students may struggle to find a healthy balance between indulging in food and properly nourishing their bodies when choosing between so many possibilities, but Ohio State nutritionists have a few words of advice.

Gina Forster, dining services nutritionist, said she feels students with meal plans are at an advantage and don’t have to go very far to find a healthy meal.

“There’s something balanced and nutritious around every corner at campus,” she said.

Forster said she is a strong proponent for intuitive eating, and believes just about everything can fit into a healthy meal.

“A lot of times I hear people talk about good food versus bad food or, ‘This is healthy,’ and, ‘This is not,’” Forster said. “I try to steer students away from that type of thinking and to focus more on having a good relationship with food and enjoying the food that they eat, but to also think about nutrition as well.”

While dining facilities on campus offer a variety of healthy foods, the same can be said about the selection of unhealthy options. Forster, however, said this is the best representation of food options students will encounter beyond graduation. She said students would be in for a rude awakening after moving off campus if they were presented with only healthy options while living on campus.

Dining Services’ website offers additional tips for healthy eating on campus, including how to balance calories, which foods to increase or avoid and what an ideal plate would look like with each of the five food groups — carbohydrates, proteins, milk and dairy, fruits and vegetables, and fats and sugars.

As a part of Partnership for a Healthier America — a nonprofit that works with the private sector to ensure the health of the country’s youth, according to its website — Dining Services also has a list of easy “wellness meals” for students eating at on-campus dining facilities. Each meal follows “strict guidelines for sodium, saturated fat, and trans fat and also contain the correct amounts of fruits, vegetables, protein, whole grains and dairy or dairy alternative,” according to Dining Service’s website.

Forster said she created the list of meals with the intention of including options that would always be accessible at Ohio State’s dining facilities and recommends taking the meals as loose guidelines rather than following them strictly.

Off-campus options present a different set of challenges. Though buying groceries and preparing meals arguably might be the most economic and healthy option, Janele Bayless, Student Wellness Center nutritionist, said students should know how to make nutrition-conscious decisions when dining out.

Bayless said there are two ideal ways to approach structuring meals when dining out.

First, she said she recommends aiming for a combination of all three macronutrients: carbohydrates, proteins and fats. Because our bodies digest each macronutrient at different rates, she said getting a combination of all three will help satisfy and sustain our bodies and ensure a balance of nutrients.

She also said she recommends including at least one protein or dairy source as well as a fruit or vegetable.

“Another way that we can structure it is by aiming for a mix of three or more food groups,” she said. “Of the grains, fruits, veggies, protein and dairy, picking from three out of the five.”

Bayless said she also believes “all foods can fit” and encourages students to eat what sounds good but consider what else they’re giving their bodies during the rest of the day, such as fruits, vegetables, water and exercise.

“Beyond that, it really comes down to portions,” she said.

Bayless said research shows people generally eat 92 percent of the food in front of them, and they can eat 20 percent more or less without realizing. To combat this unconscious eating, she suggested students eat smaller portions, order less food, split meals with friends or asking for a to-go container at the beginning of a meal and save half for later.

Both Forster and Bayless said they encourage students to take advantage of their resources by meeting with Forster if they have a meal plan or one of the nutritionists at the Wellness Center at the RPAC.