(Photo courtesy of: Thomas McAndrews) “McAndrews picking fresh apples at Parlee Farms.”
Maintaining healthy food habits while balancing a rigorous class schedule is difficult for many college students. Students at UMass Lowell mention numerous challenges with eating healthy, including a lack of nutritional information and variety at the dining hall, not enough time to make meals at home and the additional costs associated with getting takeout. But students still say eating healthy can be manageable with a few strategies.
“I think there needs to be more information about what ingredients are actually going into the food. They just have basic descriptors about what’s in it, but it’s not like a real nutritional digest. There are basically no nutritional facts,” said Thomas McAndrews, a junior criminal justice major at UMass Lowell who lives on campus.
As an on-campus student with no kitchen in his dorm, McAndrews relies solely on the dining hall as his food source. He says that the little diversity among the food presents another challenge for eating healthy. “As for options though too, it is the exact same thing every day. I know earlier this year they were going to start rotating meals, but it doesn’t seem as common anymore,” McAndrews said.
Not all students are confined to the dining hall for food on campus like McAndrews. Isabelle Bare, a senior exercise science major at UMass Lowell who lives near campus, eats lunch at the dining hall, while her other meals are prepared by herself at home. However, Bare explains that her meal preparation isn’t always convenient. “It is time-consuming to cook a meal at your house if you don’t have time during the day,” Bare said. This leads her to order food from local restaurants and spend additional money.
Despite these setbacks, there are ways to eat healthy regardless of a student’s status as a commuter or residential student, according to Melissa Quirk, a registered dietician who trained in Canada and has been working in the U.S. since 2021. Quirk works with University Dining and
Aramark, the main food supplier for the school. She also provides nutritional counseling for students.
For students who are specifically looking to eat at the dining hall, Quirk recommends planning ahead and seeing what the online menu says for the day. Regardless there are a few key components when building a meal. “The formula for a health-promoting meal is: Protein, fibrous carbohydrates, vegetables (and/or fruits), and healthy fats,” said Quirk in a statement she provided by email.
Students who eat on campus say they can eat healthily in the dining hall with some effort. When Bare eats at the dining hall and wants to have a healthy meal, there are a few stations she makes sure to go to. “They have a salad bar and a fruit bar that is always there. I think the TruBalance station is where the healthy meal is,” Bare said.
Another way students found to eat healthier was to prepare their food before coming to campus. Grace Foley, a senior biology major who commutes to her classes at UMass Lowell, prepares her meals in advance every week. “I like to have very colorful meals, so I try to do a lot of greens, like brussels sprouts, broccoli, spinach. And then, I try to do protein. And I don’t usually do a lot of fruit with my dinner, but I try to do that with breakfast and lunch,” Foley said.
For students who are on the go and have back-to-back classes, sitting down and having a meal might not be feasible. Students say the best way to address this problem is by packing nutritious snacks.
“I’m a big hummus girl,” Foley said. “So, pretzels or cut-up apples dipped in hummus. Fruit pouches, or not pouches, but packets of fruit. And also, salads are very easy to make really quickly and eat. “