Eat healthy on campus

Students visit the salad bar at Season’s Marketplace on Sept. 17.

Leah Hansen

Some students struggle with being away from home and trying to find balanced, nutritious meals that aren’t too high in calories.

“It’s difficult for students because they might go from a home situation where their mom did a lot of their meals and now they’re walking into unlimited dining,” said Sally Barclay, clinician in food science and human nutrition. “We’ve got all these different venues on campus and [students] are adjusting to a new life here and maybe more freedom than they had.”

ISU Dining offers some tips and programs — such as MyPlate and NetNutrition — to use when eating at one of the many dining centers on campus, with things like eating at the dining centers, shopping at the convenience stores, ordering coffee and choosing a snack at the cafes when on campus.

One thing dining suggests is approaching the all-you-care-to-eat style of the dining centers with a plan. Think of the different options as courses for each meal. Start out with a broth-based soup, instead of a cream-based soup, or a salad with low-fat or vinegar dressing. Avoid the bacon bits and protein; add fruit instead for vitamins and flavor.

“Part of it is knowing what the serving sizes are and being cognizant of the nutrition information,” said Cameron Aisenbrey, worker at ISU Dining. “This is posted directly in front of all the food items. If you walk into the dining center with the mindset that you’re going to eat healthy, you won’t have a problem doing that. It’s making the decision before you go in and saying ‘I’m going to eat healthy today’ and ‘I’m going to go to the salad bar; I’m going to get frozen yogurt instead of ice cream.’” 

Using the MyPlate guide can be a great tool to help plan a balanced meal.

“MyPlate … is a really good visual tool for students because it shows both balance, as far as getting a nice balance of protein, fat and carbohydrate, but it also is something that you can use as a tool to design your own plate in a dining hall,” Barclay said.

And MyPlate isn’t just a guide for planning at the dining centers. When packing a sack lunch to bring to campus, students can keep MyPlate in mind when deciding what to bring.

“The plate is such a natural icon and tool for us to use,” Barclay said. “It’s a real visual thing. Even if you’re not eating on a plate, say you’re eating out of a sack lunch, you can still think about the plate and know that it contains some protein and it contains some whole grain and half the plate is fruits and vegetables. So that means half of what I’m eating should be fruits and vegetables. It represents balance, it represents the portions, and when we look at it, it says color because of those fruits and vegetables, being really important. I think it’s a very helpful and user-friendly tool.”

Go into the dining center with a plan. Decide where to eat and stick with it. Portion size is one of the most important tools at the dining centers. Everything is OK in moderation. Try pairing fried foods with more healthy foods during meals.

“It isn’t that you can’t have chocolate anymore or ice cream or whatever your favorite thing is, but that maybe you’re not having

it as frequently or you’re having a smaller amount of it,” Barclay said.

Removing trays from the dining centers has helped students take less food. ISU Dining measures food waste, and that number has decreased since going trayless, which tells the company this project has helped students take smaller portions.

“When Seasons opened, we went trayless there to look at the benefits of trayless, whether it actually cut down on students’ food waste, and found that it cut it in half,” Aisenbrey said. “That’s why all venues now are trayless.”

Moving beyond the dining centers and into the convenience stores and cafes on campus, reading labels helps maintain nutrition. Labels indicate if a snack is high in calories, sodium and/or fat. Try low-fat milk or cheese as a healthier snack instead of chips or candy.

“There is a lot of good information on that label,” Barclay said. “You can learn what is in a food. … [And] one of the most important things is that you can learn the appropriate portion size.”

There are even healthier ways to drink coffee and still get the caffeine rush in the morning. The trick to the cafes and coffee shops on campus is to think about lowering calories and fat. Try the low-fat muffin. Cafes have a different flavor every day that are low in fat and calories.

“Things like skipping the whipped cream or choosing skim milk … if you’re into coffee,” Aisenbrey said. “Also, we do have sugar-free syrups if you want to get a latte or something like that. … There’s low-fat muffins instead of the regular muffins. … They should be marked when you walk to the bakery case.”

At the coffee shops, try black coffee or plain tea and use sugar substitutes. One of the easiest ways to cut calories and sugar is to skip the whip on the specialty coffee drinks. Choose dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate to cut the calories in half. Normally the coffee drinks are made with 2 percent milk unless skim or soy milk is requested.

A medium Turtle Mocha at Caribou Coffee has 580 calories and 31 grams of fat. Reduce both of these by asking for skim milk instead of 2 percent, skip the whipped cream or ask for non-fat, and order it with dark chocolate. A 150-pound student would have to walk between two and two-and-a-half hours without stopping to burn off 580 calories.

ISU Dining offers the NetNutrition program on their website. This is an online tool to check the nutrition information for the foods served at the dining centers.

“You can build your meal before you even go to the dining centers so you’ll know exactly what you’re getting nutrition wise,” Aisenbrey said. “It contains all of the nutritional items for what is being served that day. … NetNutrition is a great tool. It’s really nice if you use it beforehand, before you go to the dining center.”