Students get help with healthy eating

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Dining hall employee Bachhue Tran refills the bin of strawberries at the salad bar in Selleck dining hall after the lunchtime rush.

Story and photos by Erin Starkebaum, NewsNetNebraska

Remember how your parents always told you to eat your vegetables? Well, they’re not the only ones anymore.

The federal government and campus dining services at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln are also chiming in to get students to eat healthier.

The newest edition of the USDA dietary guidelines, released at the beginning of the year, also emphasizes eating vegetables. The guidelines, which are updated every five years, also suggest eating more fruits, whole grains, seafood, lean meat and poultry, beans, peas, nuts and seeds. But now that students at University of Nebraska-Lincoln don’t have mom and dad telling them to eat these healthy foods, the dining services staff has stepped in to fill the role.

Five dining halls on city and east campus serve 63,000 meals each week. To help students incorporate these healthy foods into those meals, dining services management already has several initiatives in place.

In fact, just before the new guidelines recommended consuming no more than 2,300 milligrams of salt a day, the dining services management had begun a project to reduce the amount of salt in its recipes.

“It was good timing,” said Pam Edwards, assistant director of dining services at UNL. Dining management also had changed or incorporated 150 new high fiber and high whole grain recipes into its database of nearly 5,000 recipes.

But university dining management wants so much for students to get good nutrition that a committee was established to help achieve that end. The gNc (Good Nutrition Counts) committee is made up dining services management, the dining services administrative assistant, a health center registered dietitian, the UNL Wellness coordinator, three directors from UNL Residence Life, as well as a handful of students.

One student member, Emily Simpson, said the committee’s primary goal is “promoting balanced, nutritional food choices.”

“Creating healthy, balanced meals and making informed diet and lifestyle decisions often presents a challenge during the transition to college,” said Simpson, a nutrition, exercise and health science and dietetics student.

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WOW (Working on Wellness) was a program created by the gNc (Good Nutrition Counts) committee to promote wellness in every area of UNL students’ lives.

One of the gNc’s programs is the WOW (Working on Wellness) campaign, created two years ago to help students achieve wellness in all areas of their lives. A wheel of wellness featuring the seven elements of wellness – emotional, environmental, intellectual, occupational, physical, social and spiritual – was displayed in the dining halls. Students would spin the wheel, answer a question about the area of wellness it landed on and would win a healthy snack like soy nuts or a piece of fruit.

A more recent initiative is designed to boast the benefits of eating whole grains. The committee puts labels on the bread, cereal and pasta in which whole grains to make it easier for students to select. The committee also created nutrition labels to show students how the amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein are in each serving of food.

Freshman Jenny Hosack said she uses the labels a lot when choosing what to eat in the dining halls. She focuses particularly on the amount of fat and calories from fat in each food, she said.

“If there are an outrageous number of calories for a really small piece of food, I usually stay away,” said Hosack, a secondary math education student from Harlan, Iowa. She said that even though nutritional labels can be very helpful, they still need to be read carefully. “The serving sizes are usually smaller than what people actually eat,” Hosack said.

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Jenny Hosack fills her bowl with fresh veggies at Selleck Dining Hall.

No laws force the university to run these educational campaigns in the dining halls to help students comply with the dietary guidelines.
“We don’t go through and say, ‘we’re doing this and we’re doing this and we’re doing this,’” said Edwards, dining services assistant director. Even if there was a law, the eating habits suggested are personal choices students have to make for themselves.

Hosack agreed that students have to make their own food choices. “The dining halls do a good job of offering a variety of healthy foods, but there’s definitely the option of not eating that way,” said Hosack.

Freshmen Robert Moore and Andrew Borer both said they were unaware of the dietary guidelines. They also said they don’t really pay attention to the dining services’ efforts to promote healthy eating. They choose what to eat based on what they feel like eating or what looks the best.

“Last semester I was a terrible eater,” said Moore, a graphic design student from Omaha. “I was trying to gain weight for football and was eating really bad sugary and fattening foods,” said Moore, who is trying to walk on to the Huskers football team as a tight end.

When it comes to gNc’s nutrition labels, they said they’ve noticed more women paying attention to them than men. “It’s always the girls who don’t need to be on a diet that pay attention to calories,” Moore said.

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One of the gNc committee’s projects was to label all food in which whole grains could be found to make it easier for students to work more whole grains into their diet.

High calories aren’t the only factor that can make certain foods unhealthy. According to the dietary guidelines, Americans consume too many calories from solid fats, added sugars and refined grains. Moore and Borer were examples of this last semester. They’ve only just recently discovered the benefits of choosing healthier foods and drinks, they said.

Borer, a music education student from Norfolk, Neb., said last semester he and his roommate were drinking 48 cans of pop a month. Moore said he used to go through eight cans every day. After realizing how much better they felt and performed when playing basketball at the rec center, they decided to cut way back.

Now the two are both down to a glass or less of pop a day and Borer’s new eating habits follow the rule of eating whatever makes him feel better.

Though it may not have been the gNc’s campaigns or the dietary guidelines that changed Borer and Moore’s way of eating this semester, they still learned what the gNc committee and federal dietary guidelines wanted them to –to eat healthier.

“I feel like you’re happier when you’re healthier,” Borer said.

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