My son is living in a private dorm operated by his college's Newman Center (Catholic campus ministry), and his dorm's food service has been very upfront about not serving meat on Fridays in Lent. This is a big contrast to my husband's experience in University Housing cafeterias at the same college 30 years ago, where they routinely served fried chicken (a favorite of my spouse's, and one dish the dorm food service prepared quite well) on Fridays in Lent -- when he couldn't eat it. On another note, our son is quite pleased with his private dorm's food service, and has had so little use for the microwave we bought for him this year that he plans to leave it at home next year. (He's keeping the minifridge, though, since he does enjoy having cold sodas in his room while studying.)
I was struck (almost thunderstruck) by how much more concerned the dining services at colleges today seem about student needs/desires than they were when I was in college (also about 30 years ago). There are so many more options, and the food's so much better. Glad to hear your son is having a good experience.
I am an RD and Director of Dining at Trinity U in DC. We promote health and wellness on campus and work towards engaging our students. Some recent activities include: using senior nursing students to promote the Go Red for Women campaign, giving away pedometers to those who commit to walking and tracking results on line, running our own Biggest Loser contest, starting a student organization for those interested in health and wellness, and promoting our own version of Meatless Mondays. We call it Veg Out!, emphasizing the benefits of eating less meat and more vegetables. We provide nutritional information and choices for those interested in healthy eating. My question for Ms. Kiehn: What has worked on your campus to promote interest in health and engage students? Bonnie Irvin, RD
Hello, Bonnie! What has worked on our campus are activities that actively engage the students. For example, we might offer several more "uncommon" fruits with descriptors of what they are, the health benefits (e.g., high in Vitamin C), and encourage students to try them. We also have high acceptance for roasted vegetables and made-to-order stir fries that feature fresh vegetables. Trivia contests are another way to engage students. We have a very nice Recreation Complex which many students enjoy and partner with our Wellness Resource Center to keep students involved. It takes everyone working together on this one!
I noticed in our chat comparing dining halls at eight DC-area universities, there's a wide range in basic meal plan prices -- George Mason charges $1,325 a semester. Johns Hopkins is at $2,680. Why such a difference? Does paying more mean better quality? Link to chart.
Very few dining plans are EXACTLY alike. Look at the details of what is included, the facilities, the style of service, hours of operation, plan flexibility, etc. Of course, the best plan is the one that best fits the individual's needs. That is one of the reasons that the campus visit is so important--so the prospective student can experience the campus to determine the best fit for her or him.
Some of the dining halls Jennifer wrote about sound more like restaurants than college cafeterias. George Washington serves "all-you-care-to-eat Sunday brunch." American U serves vegan "cheeseless vegetable pizza." Johns Hopkins hires "executive chefs." Are dining halls becoming mini restaurants?
Dining locations on college/university campuses are indeed becoming more and more like restaurants. The culinary talent has greatly increased; there are chefs preparing menu items to order, based on the selections of the customer. Students want to see their menu items made fresh, right in front of them.
Several of the dining-services people I spoke with referred to the students they serve as "customers," and they did indeed sound as though they were trying to offer real dining experiences, not just food to fill 'em up. Lucky students!
I'll never forget. The VCU cafeteria had an ice cream sundae buffet. I'd never had one. My parents felt that ice cream itself was reward enough for being alive; we certainly didn't need to add sweetened cream and cherries to it. And, unlike Mom, the cafeteria did not spank my hand when I went back for more. I went from 117 to 124 my first month. Then I got an old bike from the police impound lot and stayed below 130 until I finished college. After ten years of marriage and raising children, I'm at 215. Gotta get a bike! Or a husband who will spank my hand.
Just curious: Do you feel that your college food experience set you up for less-than-optimal eating habits? I sense that students today have access to, and often take advantage of, all kinds of resources for learning how to eat healthfully and work physical activity into their lives. A bike sounds like a great idea -- and lots of fun, too!
Most campus tours include the rec center and lots of info about campus dining. Do prospective students really care? Do these services ever make or break their decision to attend?
The campus tour is extremely important to the selection of a college or university. Yes, prospective students (and their parents) really care! We have had parents and students tell us that everything was equal until they visited the campus, saw the residence halls and rec center, and dined on campus. That experience "cinched the deal"!
My daughter was only mildly curious about the food offerings when she toured colleges last fall, and the dining services/fitness offerings had hardly anything to do with her decision. As with most everything, I suppose, different people have different needs and interests.
I think it must be harder for students today, who are already accustomed to sitting in front of computers. I was no athlete, but in college I walked everywhere (a midsize university). Several nights a week I walked to a community center, took a Jazzercise class, and walked home. Gained 15-20 pounds with my first desk job. I had never had to worry much about what I ate, and sitting all day really took a toll.
Movement has to become a way of life. Pick the movement that most appeals to you. Park farther from the office, take the steps, walk around the building on your break, bike to work or after work--find something you enjoy and then "pay yourself first" by working it into your schedule.
My daughter, who will start college this fall, chose a huge campus and is looking forward to the built-in exercise that walking to classes will provide. Plus, she's looking forward to joining an on-campus club sport. I hear you about the first desk job -- my current "desk job" keeps me glued to a seat in front of a computer, and I have to make a conscious effort to get out and get moving. But I do!
The Trinity Center @ Trinity Washington University offers a variety of classes for our students, faculty and staff such as zumba, gutts n butts, pilates, swimming lessons and tennis programs. What trends have you seen in the area with other student populations to get them to engage in a healthy lifestyle? Thank you.
Student Recreation Centers may offer a wide variety of "classes", as you listed. Several offer the services of a personal trainer to help the student develop a program to meet their specific needs. Among swimming, spinning, running/jogging/walking, pilates, handball, basketball, climbing, weightlifting, tennis, volleyball, biking, etc., there is something for everyone. There is no one answer; the individual can choose an activity that she or he enjoys--and then head toward a more healthy lifestyle.
You have it already, but ZUMBA. I knew it was huge at fitness centers outside of college, but every school I talked to has it or feels bad that they don't have it yet. The most amazing class I heard about in my reporting was at Hopkins (although it's not being offered right now): Comedy Abs! It's an abs class that's taught by a fitness instructor and an improv comedian, so you laugh while you crunch. Completely brilliant, right? Creative approaches like that seem like an awesome way to get kids excited about getting to the rec center.
Hi! Here at Trinity Washington University in DC we have launched a "Healthy Choices, A Healthy You" campaign that emphasizes, well, healthy choices! It's a mutli-faceted program, with a focus on healthy food choices, exercise, health awareness, nutritional information, a health and wellness blog, and more. Our new walking club has logged almost 700 miles! And Veg Out Mondays have been a great success in the dining hall. And it's not just for students - staff and faculty are encouraged to participate. Do you have suggestions for other programs we could implement?
I'm glad to hear from you about Trinity Washington University's offerings and programs. It sounds as though you're doing really great things there. Nice that you include faculty and staff, too. Maybe Julaine will have some suggestions for how you could do even more!
Very cool! And, if I remember correctly, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius (a Trinity alum) has been a strong supporter of these programs on campus.
Some other ideas...
* Towson University outside of Baltimore has banned all smoking on campus.
* Dozens of universities (including Georgetown, Johns Hopkins, James Madison and Marymount universities) have gotten rid of trays in their dining halls so students don't load up with more food than they need.
* Virginia Tech serves lots and lots of locally grown or produced food -- including produce from a campus farm.
What other ideas are out there? I would love to hear more...
do many colleges offer all-u-can-eat plans anymore? dangerous stuff ... michelle obama needs to rein that in!
Many campuses offer options--dine in all-you-care-to-eat and/or a la carte (either dine in or take out). While students enjoy having the wide variety of an all-you-care-to-eat (rather than all-you-CAN-eat) dining location, it does provide a great deal of temptation. For those watching their weight, it is wise to have a plan before entering, avoid using a tray (to control how much one can carry), and select nutrient dense foods--to spend the calories wisely.
I heard "all you care to eat" for the very first time when I had lunch at Virginia Tech's D2 dining hall earlier this year -- now I hear it everywhere!
I never had problems with weight gain in college. I walked everywhere I needed to go, and all of that walking gave kept me from gaining weight. My problem was going from college to life after college where I had a desk job and no longer walked any further than the distance from the parking lot to my office. That is when the weight gain began. After college, I was eating better (less access to the soda fountains and all you can eat pizza) but it wasn't food as much as it was exercise.
You are the second chatter to bring this up today, and I know first-hand that this is a real phenomenon. For many of us, it's losing that flexible schedule that makes getting enough exercise tricky. Say what you will, but it's hard to fit gym time -- or even a walk or bike ride -- in when you're working full time and then some. I might just write a column about this.....
What are colleges doing to promote healthy body images among women on campus?
This was one issue I was wondering about when checking out the Healthy Living dorm at Hopkins -- would having that much of an emphasis on fitness and food make this the eating disorder dorm? But I was happily surprised that it's not like that at all. I think that's because the school does promote health, not thinness. At the rec center, for instance, they make a point of not having a scale.
And at University of Maryland, there's an office for the Center for Health and Wellbeing inside the Eppley Recreation Center. They deal with a range of issues -- including body image, stress, sleep and sexual health.
Here's a quick video on a program called End Fat Talk, which is just what it sounds like: It encourages people on campus to stop focusing on and talking about their weight all the time.
I'm in San Francisco. This morning on my public transit commute, I shared the bus with a group of NY state high schoolers on a trip to Alcatraz, I was dismayed to see that most of them were overweight or worse. I wonder if the freshman 15 will even an issue for them, if they don't recognize the problems in their diet today.
Our focus has to start with babies when they are born, as they become toddlers, and then enter school and become teenagers and then adults. This is a lifelong and lifestyle issue.
And I wonder how much of the problem has to do with the lack of physical education in schools.
Another thing that's fascinating about Howard is that they still have a swimming requirement (in the College of Arts & Sciences). That seems incredibly retro, but of course, it was very common at colleges a generation ago. They also require that students take two exercise classes. Hopefully these are lessons that will stick with them.
What is it about college life that makes students gain the "15" (or 20 or 30) anyway?
I wonder how society landed on the number 15? (I have a friend who says he actually gained the "College 50.")
An interesting study at Dartmouth a few years ago found that it's more like "The Freshman Five." And most of that weight gain happened during the first semester before Thanksgiving break.
There are a lot of reasons students gain weight, even with all of that walking between classes.
Likely the No.1 Reason: Beer. Other possible reasons: Late-night eating when the majority of options are unhealthy. Buffet-style meals for every meal. And choosing studying (or video game playing) over jogging.
What should students with food allergies do to deal with campus dining halls? How do schools currently deal with allergies?
The bottom line is that college students have to take responsibility for managing their own food allergies. But colleges dining services do their best to accommodate students' allergies; as I noted in today's column, students with food allergies should meet with the staff dietitian and, if possible, with the head chef, the former to help devise an overall strategy, the latter to focus on the day-to-day specifics.
Yale supplies all locally grown food to their cafeterias. And they have an organic farm?!?! Is this the future? Should other colleges get in on this -- producing their own food for their own students and using a farm as part of education?
Many campuses are incorporating more and more "local foods" (defined by the campus) on their menus. Some even grow it, although this number is more limited. Some universities have research farms that grow produce for use in the dining locations. And, these programs often relate to the degree programs on campus. Others may not have access to the needed land. Or, the students may organize and develop community gardens; they may take the pulp (from food waste) that they compost and use on the garden. There may also be farmers markets on campus. Others have coops of farmers who can provide local produce, meats and cheeses, eggs, nuts, honey, and other items. It is really very exciting to have these fresh flavors on campus menus!
One thing I'd like to point out is that, for all the emphasis on providing healthful options, many colleges report that students still go for the pizza and fries. Check the list of most popular items in the chart accompanying today's column; the favorite foods include pizza, chicken fingers and General Tso's chicken!
How much of this discussion also relates back to Michelle Obama's work in elementary through high school students re: school lunches? Has she invigorated the college dining scene at all?
I'm not sure Michelle Obama's work has had a chance yet to trickle up to colleges, but it's clear that many students are coming to college expecting much more in terms of nutritional value and quality out of their dining services than my generation expected. That may be one of the best outcomes from all the current focus on school-based nutrition: It's making savvier consumers out of a lot of young people.
What is the role of an organic garden on campus?
Many campuses have organic gardens (and use compost from their dining halls to enrich them), but I understand that it's challenging to maintain a big enough farm to consistently feed a large and hungry student population.
So I've gained weight since the beginning of the year... do I need to be worried about next year? I exercise every once in awhile and eat pretty decently, though late-night studying tends to involve snacking, too. Don't really know what I should be doing differently...
The answer depends on your goal. If you were underweight and wanted to gain weight, you are doing well. What is your life goal? If you want to lead a healthy lifestyle and "be the best you can be", I encourage you to include movement of some type in your daily routine (e.g., walking, biking, taking the steps, rather than the elevator, parking across campus). There are plenty of options--select one or more that you enjoy and include them in your daily activities. It is a way of life.
One super easy way to make sure you're exercising more than once in a while is to join some sort of club sport or team activity. When I was reporting at Howard, it was just before a huge dance performance and I saw students practicing all over. (Reminded me of being in a Filipino dance troupe in college. And no, I'm not Filipino. But it was a fun way to get to hang out with friends.)
I would think that dining hall staffers are a poor choice for asking advice on good eating habits--just take a look at them the next time you're there: Are they healthy? Are they slender or muscular? If not,, consult with the phys ed/athletic department about this issue. Ask this question when you're in Health or Personal Hygiene class, or PE/Gym class.
I wouldn't recommend "staffers," but the dining-services or campus dietitian can certainly offer sound advice, and if you have a specific issue (such as a food allergy), talking to the head chef can be very helpful, I understand.
Some colleges have ID Cards that can be used off-campus like a credit card at certain off-campus dining facilities. Do you see this as a way to increase healthy choices beyond the traditional dorm student or is it introducing even less control over healthy choices?
Yes, some colleges and universities allow off-campus purchases with a decreasing or increasing balance card. This allows the campus to offer extended services (e.g., pizza delivery) to its customers, which can be helpful. Others may not want to allow off-campus purchases, depending on the goal of limiting alcohol consumption, state banking laws or university perspective, keeping the dollars on campus, etc. So, it really depends on the goals of the campus and what they are trying to do with their program.
My sense was that these often get used at fast-food places....
Dearest Jenna Johnson, I am a college freshman at a state school in Charlottesville that I would prefer not to name. Here is my problem: recently I have gained so much weight that it is difficult to extricate myself from my dorm room. The door frame is very narrow and I am very wide. My first question is this: do you have any suggestions for ways to pass the time while I wait (again) for the fire department's arrival? My second question is this: do you know of any low-fat alternatives to horse meat? Thanks so much for your help. Warmly, Dolores
Popular culture tells us that the best way to lose weight is to watch other people trying to do so -- pull out that remote control and get ready for a "Biggest Loser" marathon.
And, once you make it out, I hear that the University of Virginia (which just happens to be in Charlottesville) has a fabulous fresh sushi counter.
Good luck! Cheers, Jenna
There definitely seems to be more focus on healthy eating today compared with 20 years ago. Is it just a focus shift or has food and eating styles changed that much over the years. I picked my school based on the degrees offered and size of the school. For me, the right choice was the University of Missouri-Rolla (Now Missouri University of Science and Technology). It was a small school with a science and engineering focus. I could have gone to the University of Illinois (I grew up near Chicago) but I wanted a smaller school. I honestly don't think the dorms or food service played any role in my decision making process and even today I don't think that food service could trump degree programs. Maybe it can make a difference for the more common degrees that you can find at any school, but when picking a special degree your choices are limited.
I think you are right about this. But for some young people I've talked to, the quality of, say, the vegetarian or vegan fare is a key issue when evaluating colleges. And I do think that for some prospective students having a hard time choosing among schools that have accepted them, some seemingly small quality-of-life matters such as campus food could become a deciding point.
What do you think of Jaime Oliver's Food Revolution show on TV? Should he go to higher ed next? Or do you think that that is not necessary
I love Jamie Oliver and find him very persuasive -- and, given the difficulties he's having in L.A. right now, I think he might benefit from finding a new venue. I think college students would relate to him really well. I would have loved it if he had shown up on my campus; wouldn't you?
I went to the University of Notre Dame in the late 1990s, and it was a requirement that you either take swimming your freshman year or, if you passed the swimming test, a year of PE classes, which included ballroom dancing, fencing, tennis, golf, etc. I think they even had a weightlifting option. It was a great chance to try new activities and built some physical activity right into your schedule.
Yes, there are many options! Most rec centers now offer these programs--not for credit but for the benefit of the students. They also provide a way for students to meet each other, socialize, and make friends. There are many activities for individuals (e.g., elliptical machines, bicycles, spinning machines, weight lifting, swimming). The Rec Sports programs (formerly called intramurals) are very strong and offer many opportunities for a wide variety of group activities.
One popular sport I heard raves about on a couple campuses: Quidditch. Bet you didn't play that in the 1990s...
Also big: pick-up basketball. Schools can't have enough hoops. And table tennis.
Jenna -- have you sampled all the area college cafeterias? Can you advise which university has the best food? (In terms of taste, not health.) Can you also advise who has the worst? No need to ask for best -view because Georgetown's cafeteria overlooking the Potomac wins that category easily.
hahaha! I have had quite a few meals in college cafeterias. I would have to say my favorite was at Virginia Tech with a bunch of student government members (picture!). Tech serves fresh lobster and steak-to-order by the ounce, plus lots of daily vegan options.
Here's what people on Twitter have been telling me:
@ivywise: Our faves: @LehighUNews fountain Dr Pepper, @TulaneNews red beans & rice, @EmersonCollege cereal bar, Trinity bistro grilled cheese
@naveeds1992: The ice cream at @UofMaryland is THE BEST!! Even though it's supposed to be pretty unhealthy. #campusfood
@johnruzicka: Univ of San Diego has an awesome gourmet dining facility. Kobe beef burgers, sushi, brick oven pizza. Nothing over $10. #campusfood
@u_nebraska: Somehow I always found my way to the ice cream station in the Neihardt basement... which probably explains that freshman 15, er 20.
@tony_falcone: Wing Dings at D Hall, and the Hot Doggery at JMU (but this was 30 years ago…) #campusfood
@uvadeanj: In college, a guy named Ollie who made the best soups. In grad school, someone in dining knew how to make amazing tempeh dishes.
@uvadeanj: Here @UVA, sushi is my fav. The folks behind the counter stop to thank everyone who picks up a pack. I'm charmed by them!
@cynthiacbell: #SetonHall's meal plans range from $1500-$2000. Best aspect is students have a lot of DIY options: pasta, stir fry, eggs, etc.
I was surprised at the campus pervasiveness of soft drink machines seemed like every hallway) and the dorm room mini-frig filled with pop/sweetened iced tea (and, yes, beer). Two or three cans of cola a day will add on the pounds for sure.
Campus dining operations are customer focused--and strive to satisfy their customers. Dining provides a wide variety of options, along with nutrition education to help guide the customer in making selections that best fit their lifestyles. More and more college students are drinking water. It is shifting a culture. By making the one change of drinking water rather than a full-calorie beverage, one can see a major change in calorie consumption.
This surprises me, too. But I do understand that colleges have to strike a balance between offering healthful options and guidance about good nutrition and giving students what they want. I'm glad to hear about the increased water drinking among college students, though!
I've heard great thing about dining at Virginia Tech. How does UVa stack up?
Virginia Tech has an excellent dining program--very customer focused, high-quality and diverse menus, up-to-date and cutting-edge facilities, culinary expertise. It has won many national awards and stacks up well. Hats off to the amazing team there!
The best college food you've ever tasted. Go.
When I was a student at Nebraska, every now and then they would bring in Runzas for lunch. (What's a Runza?)
That is a hard one--no one best! I have had excellent food on college campuses--from College of the Holy Cross to Harvard to University of Richmond to Virginia Tech to University of Colorado (earlier this week) to Brigham Young University, USC and UCLA, and University of Washington and University of Montana to University of Northern Iowa and University of Missouri to Washington University (St. Louis) and more. There are some great things happening on college and university campuses (large, medium sized, and small)!
I still crave tomato soup from the dining hall. Is that weird?
Hi Jenna, I am a college student in the district, originally from Pennsylvania. Is there anywhere in town I can get the fresh, natural and most importantly NON-INDUSTRIAL food that I have come to love from the Amish farms of my childhood?
This isn't a college dining services answer, but if you're in D.C., you should look into Smucker Farms, which is opening on 14th Street. I'm pretty psyched to check it out...
Yes, yes -- And, some local college trivia, owner Eric Smucker is a Georgetown grad.
Do outside vendors always do a worse job than internal operations in running dining halls?
Some of the schools I featured today used outside vendors who had been national leaders in such initiatives as improving offerings for vegetarians, vegans and people who are gluten intolerant, for instance. The private operations did a great job, too, but sometimes being part of a nationwide network seems to pay off, too.