Food for thought
Article: Daylene Sliz – Contributor
Food. You can eat it, wear it, toss it, toss it up, taste it, smell it, drink it, and grow it. Some live to eat, others eat to live. It can comfort us, energize us, tempt us, and make us sick. But no matter what you do with it, you need food to survive. Making the healthiest food choice isn’t always on the menu for overburdened students.
University students, in particular, are at risk for poor food choices and unhealthy eating as many take on full course loads, work part-time or full-time jobs, and have family and social commitments leaving little time to prepare and eat healthy meals.
Late night eating after a round or two at The Owl, consuming high fat and carb-rich food while studying or watching TV, and stress over exams and papers can contribute to weight gain and unhealthy food choices. It can be particularly difficult for students living in residence as the transition to independent living may have left them unprepared for the drastic change in routine and living habits.
Sitting for extended periods of time and a lack of sleep, eating whatever is most convenient to get and easiest to eat quickly are barriers to healthy eating.
According to Kimberly Green, registered dietician with the University of Toronto, students who sleep late and skip breakfast have a lower GPA than those who get up early and have something to eat. Students are at risk for developing health issues such as Type 2 diabetes, some types of cancer, cardiovascular disease, depression, and obesity. It would seem the expression “Freshman 15” – the 10 to 15 pounds of weight that students can pack on – can be a reality for some.
Kirk Harrison, Director of Food Services for Chartwells at the University of Regina says, “Food service can make or break a student’s day.”
Food Services is trying to achieve an inclusive balance with international students and those with dietary restrictions by offering vegetarian and gluten-free products (or “made without gluten” which is becoming the universal phrase). They offer vegetarian pizza with rennet-free cheese, and halal is offered twice a week for international students. There is a vegetarian option at every lunch along with a complete salad bar with rotating food choices.
Level of service has become a top priority for Harrison.
He says, “we are working to change the culture at the food stations.”
The staff complement of 24 core people rises to 80 during the school year, so it’s important that those serving the food are happy to do so and are respectful of the customers.
Harrison says, “standing in line for 12 minutes for a cup of coffee is unacceptable.”
Quality assurance is an important factor in the service Chartwells provides. Temperature of the food is taken every three hours to ensure quality and safety, and each vendor is provided with temperature, production, cooler logs, and waste sheets for daily tracking purposes.
The Dine on Campus website has also undergone some improvements with sections on food advice, dining plans, nutrition information, what’s going on at the campus and what’s coming up.
As well he says, “concerns from the students are taken seriously.”
Even with healthy alternatives, sales figures indicate that fast or “junk food” is still the preferred choice among students. “But,” Harrison says, “everyone’s idea of healthy food is different.”
Students looking for home cooked style food with a salad and soup bar can go to the Global Village for dinner from 4 – 7 p.m. As well, there is at least one On the Go cooler at every location with a variety of options in each cooler including sandwiches, salads, yogurt, and drinks.
Evening students still seem to have limited options, however. Finding a healthy snack or a decent cup of coffee on campus after 7:00 p.m. is nearly impossible, unless the vending machine coffee provides you with that jolt you’re craving. Harrison says there are also no plans at the moment to add food services at the College Avenue Campus where many night classes are held throughout the year.
Students looking for fresh and healthy alternatives also have the opportunity to purchase fresh produce including fruit and vegetables, as well as eggs, pasta and fresh baked bread at third to half the cost through the Good Food Box program offered through URSU. Orders can be placed at the Students’ Union front desk and food deliveries are made every two weeks.
The options are there, it is up to students to consciously make the decision to advocate for their own health and to take advantage of the fitness and healthy food options provided on campus. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle by aiming for balance will help students achieve their academic goals and diminish the long-term effects of prolonged unhealthy eating.