Campus cafeteria: is eating at the cafeteria healthy?

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When you walk into the cafeteria, the first things that you see are baked goods, chips and candy. If you take the time to scan the menus and ask the cafeteria staff about the food that they offer, it becomes clear that our campus cafeteria has many healthy options that students may not know about. In fact the campus cafeteria not only offers healthy alternatives to the standard cafeteria meals, they also offer gluten-free, dairy-free, peanut-free, vegetarian and vegan options. Much of the student body is completely unaware of the alternatives that are available, the diversity of the cuisine and the real reason why students may be gaining weight when eating at the cafeteria.

The organization that runs the cafeteria and food services in general across campus is called Aramark. When asked about the options in the cafeteria, Aramark employee, Linda Steeves says, “We make our menus customizable and accessible to all students.” Montague’s Deli let’s students build their own wraps and sandwiches and Grill Works offers healthy sides to their dishes, such as apples or salad, and they offer a vegetarian dish every day. Express makes salads, fruit salads and sandwiches on whole grain bread. Soups are offered daily and a wide variety of beverages, including milk and water, are provided as well. “Our chefs cook with natural flavours and do not rely on salt, MSG or oil when seasoning,” says Steeves.

“A healthy diet is a balanced diet,” says registered dietary consultant Deborah Ferguson, “You need proteins, carbohydrates and healthy fats; you also need an abundance of nutrients, vitamins and minerals included in your diet.” Part of the problem could be that students are eating too many carbohydrates; excess carbohydrates are stored as fat. “Kids need to eat more protein,” says Ferguson, and her quick tips include: 1) Eat as much colour as you can (leafy greens, oranges, red peppers) and avoid anything white (breads, potatoes and rice). 2) Drink water, not juice or pop; although juice contains less sugar than pop you are still drinking carbohydrates. 3) Avoid packaged, processed, denatured foods and anything with a long shelf life. Eat things that you can identify without reading the label.

So the healthy options are available, but why isn’t everybody using them? “The cafeteria offers what students want, which includes cupcakes and chips and ice cream,” says Steeves. It is the simple concept of supply and demand; there is an abundance of unhealthy food in the cafeteria because that is what students are buying. Many students seem to be ignoring the resources that are laid out for them, potentially causing weight gain.

Just feet from the cash registers in the cafeteria is a table full of brochures about healthy eating and making healthy choices, there is a suggestion board, and just past that are the offices of the Aramark employees that will take you through all of the different options offered in the cafeteria. “We push the unhealthy food just as much as the healthy food, because in the end it is a business and we have to make a profit,” says Steeves. “People grab what is convenient because they skip meals and their blood sugar drops or they are craving unhealthy food and don’t stop to consider what they are buying,” says Ferguson, “The key to healthy eating is to pay attention to what you are eating: look at what you are buying, don’t eat while distracted and focus on eating.” Ultimately, it is up to the students to choose the healthy options available to them.