“Farmer’s Market, located at University Dining Commons in Fox Hall, offers healthy options for students. (Courtesy of Navitas UML)
Eating healthy is challenging for everyone, especially on a college campus. More often than not, students who live on-campus find themselves in the dining halls, indulging in foods that may or may not have nutritional value.
About 17,000 students attend UMass Lowell, each having different dietary needs. While some students have eating healthy on-campus down to a science, many struggle when deciding what to eat in the dining halls, when to eat, and how much they should be eating.
Professor Renee Barrile, program director in the biomedical and nutrition sciences department, recommends to all her students to follow the myPlate model from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
The model is easy to follow and consists of half a plate of foods and/or vegetables, and the other half consisting of a combination of grains and protein. Dairy is not a dominant part of the model, but the nutrients and vitamins found in dairy products are essential. These vitamins and nutrients can also be found in other foods, which is why dairy is not essential to the myPlate model.
“I think a healthy diet is balanced, has a wide variety of healthy foods, and everything should be in moderation,” says Barrile. Every student is different, which means they have different needs in terms of how many calories they should be consuming. It is a person-to-person case.
“We have students who are extremely active, working out every day, and they’ll need to consume a lot more calories than our more sedentary students,” says Barrile, “It also depends on their gender.”
Barrile has concluded that 1,200 calories is the minimum for a college student. That is the amount a smaller student or a student trying to lose weight might consume. A particularly active person could consume anywhere up to 8,000 calories.
Students eating on-campus still may not necessarily know the healthy options available to them, and taking the time to do the research is extensive.
“There are definitely boundaries. I think students are busy. I don’t think students necessarily have time to plan out healthy eating,” says Barrile, “I think there’s a lot of unhealthy options that are sometimes easier and less expensive. There’s definitely room for improvement.”
Aramark, the food provider for UMass Lowell, has put in effort to promote healthy eating on-campus for students. Their website umasslowell.campusdish.com provides information on the options in the dining halls for the day, as well as nutritional information for the food as well. This information can be found in the dining halls as well.
However, some students find that eating healthy has limited options most of the time. Karina Gadre, sophomore public health major, checks online regularly to ensure there are options that align with her diet. She balances a variety of foods for protein, carbohydrates and fats. The dining hall does not always make this possible for her.
“If you’re eating healthy then you’re limited to two stations. I try to take pieces from different stations to create variety that way, but overall I’m satisfied like half the time,” says Gadre.
Eating healthy faces its challenges in the dining hall. With so many options, it is hard for students to decide and consciously make the effort to figure out what to eat, when to eat and how much to eat.
“I try to [eat healthy], but mostly not,” says Kyle Clapper, sophomore engineering student, “My qualifiers for healthy are dishes that aren’t saturated with oils and fats, aren’t made with highly processed grains and that are not meat based. Meat is fine, I just don’t think it should be the focal point of a dish.”
Clapper’s statement coincides with elements of the myPlate model enforced by the USDA as well. Overall, students who take the time to learn about healthy eating can find the time to do so. As long as there is moderation and variation of healthy foods, healthy eating is possible. Barrile says, “Moderation is usually the key in most diets.”