"Everything in moderation" is the best advice that Lindsay Barr, health educator at the College of Charleston, can give freshmen to stay healthy and avoid piling on extra pounds. While everyone likely has heard that saying one too many times, it really is the truth, she said.
Food centerpiece on healthy eating at college/avoiding the freshman 15 is part three of a three-part series.
Deciding what to bring to college made easier by Web sites, checklists, published 07/26/09
College life: Students follow different routes to define their roles after going away to school, published 07/27/09
When freshmen come from an environment where they're used to having their meals cooked for them by parents, it can be hard to adjust, Barr explains. The infamous "freshman 15" weight gain comes from this change in lifestyle — students are responsible for feeding themselves in college.
The experience students have depends on what kind of college they're attending, whether it's the College of Charleston, The Citadel or Trident Technical College or elsewhere.
"It took me a few weeks to figure it all out," said Lindsay Sasser, rising junior and student mentor at the College of Charleston. "The hardest part for me was deciding what I had time to eat before my classes during the week. It's all about finding a routine that works best for you."
Many colleges make an effort to provide their students with healthy food options. The College of Charleston publishes the annual "Healthy Cougar Cookbook," composed of easy recipes, many from its own student body. The school also offers health and wellness services to its students. This includes one-on-one meetings with Barr, who works to educate students about nutrition and eating disorders.
The College of Charleston tries to provide its students with nutrition and variety through its dining facilities. The school offers six options for students: the Fresh Food Company, Hungry Cougar, Einstein Bros. Bagels, Java City, Stern Center Food Court and Market 159.
The Fresh Food Company operates on a rotating menu cycle, where students have the option of grilled items, pizza, fresh vegetables, a pasta station and a salad bar. This is a popular choice for freshmen, who are required to have a meal plan during their first year.
"We are always doing research and conducting surveys to better understand our customers' needs and preferences, and implanting changes in response to those needs," said Jan Brewton, director of Business and Auxiliary Services at the college.
For example, Market 159, a small convenience store where students can buy their own food using their meal plan, features healthy choices such as fresh fruit and an all-organic section.
The dining facilities also ensure that the foods they prepare are free of trans fat. At Stern Center Food court, students can even build their own salad at Charleston Greenhouse.
On the other hand, because The
Citadel is a military school, the dining experience for student cadets is quite different.
Ward Scheindlinger, director of dining services at The Citadel, explains that all cadets eat breakfast, lunch and dinner at the same time, served "family-style" in the mess hall.
Eating meals together contributes to the tight-knit community among cadets. Family-style meals resemble how they might eat at home with their parents and siblings — their tables are pre-set each day with tableware, condiments and refreshments. Once seated, the meals are brought to the tables, said Scheindlinger. Special events take place in the mess hall, such as the traditional Thanksgiving dinner before fall break and even a competitive wing-eating contest among cadets.
Many cadets experience the "freshmen 15" in reverse during their first year. Many actually lose weight due to The Citadel's physical demands, said Scheindlinger.
The Citadel also provides its cadets with healthy dining options. At breakfast, the mess hall offers only sugar-free cereals to cadets. At dinner on weekends, freshman cadets have the option of a salad bar, pasta bar, three different vegetables and a carving station. The Citadel recently installed milk dispensers in the weight room, something you might not see at other colleges, to help cadets rehydrate after exercise.
Col. John Powell, director of admissions and a graduate of The Citadel, compares the day-to-day physical demands of the college to playing a Division I sport at another school.
Because students at Trident Technical College are typically older and do not live on campus, there are fewer dining facilities. However, "The Spot" on Trident Tech's Main Campus offers a wide variety of breakfast and lunch items to students. For example, lunch offers grill items, sandwiches, salads and fresh sushi rolled daily by the cafe's own sushi chef.
Trident Tech's culinary students learn the essentials of healthy eating through their curriculum. Freshmen are required to take a nutrition class that covers basic nutritional needs of human beings, including carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins and minerals. Students also learn how they can include nutritional value in the food they prepare.
Instead of dining at their school's facilities, some students choose to buy or prepare food elsewhere. Barr said there are a few things college freshmen should keep in mind when doing so. Pay attention to food labels, she stresses, as a product that appears to be "low-fat" or "full of essential vitamins and minerals" may be loaded with sugar, sodium or other unhealthy additives.
For hunger pangs in between meals or late at night, Barr suggests avoiding sugary snacks, and sticking to things such as hummus or granola.
Sasser, the C of C junior, remembers snacking on individual-sized packs of popcorn or Cheerios her freshmen year. Barr also suggests stocking dorm rooms with healthy options such as dried fruit and high-fiber cereals, like Kashi.
Sasser said she usually saved ordering pizza, Chinese takeout, or going out to dinner with friends for weekends. "Many restaurants in Charleston aren't cheap, so I really couldn't go out that much anyway," she said. "I found I could have the same experience of eating out just by rounding up a group of friends and going to the cafeteria for dinner."
The College of Charleston, The Citadel and Trident Tech offer their students different experiences in food, but their dining services all aim for nutrition and variety. By including a salad bar or vegetables and fruit in their cafeterias, colleges are aiming to cater to their students' health.
So instead of robotically stuffing their faces with pizza every night, Barr encourages students to take a minute and ask themselves, "What am I eating? And why am I eating this?" Being a mindful eater is one of the most important skills college students can acquire, she said.