In an age filled with fast food options and tight budgets, students often struggle to find both affordable and healthy food options on and around campus. After an outcry from students complaining about inadequate dining dollars and food insecurity, officials recently announced a new meal plan that will be implemented at the start of the next academic year. The new plan provides two options which are based on whether or not students are living in residence halls with in-unit kitchens, and both offer significantly more money than the current plans. But these changes alone won’t spur healthier eating for students.
This plan should theoretically increase the likelihood of healthier eating habits by providing students more money to buy healthy groceries. But even though a student may have a kitchen – and be expected to buy more healthy groceries to cook healthy meals because of it – he or she may not know how to cook. Prior to entering college, my cooking skills were – and still are – very limited. Although I may enjoy eating them, microwavable popcorn and ramen noodles don’t make for a healthy diet.
University dining should use the implementation of this new dining plan to create a course to inform students with healthy recipes and how to budget.
In light of the new dining plan, the University should introduce a voluntary, but highly recommended, course taught by on-staff trained dietitians from the Colonial Health Center where students can learn how to cook healthier meals on a budget. Currently, the dining website states that the CHC has an on-staff dietitian with whom students can request appointments, but it’s unclear what the dietitian will be able to actually advise students on or how to request an appointment. A class covering healthy recipes, information about portion control and how to budget led by a trained dietitian would help account for all of these problems. This one-time course should be offered at the start of every semester and ought to be open and free to everyone. But it should be geared toward upperclassman students transitioning to rooms in residence halls with in-unit kitchens who can cook on a more regular basis.
The closest grocery stores – where students would need to buy uncooked items to make these healthier meals – like Whole Foods on campus and Trader Joe’s a few blocks off campus, are unreasonably priced. Cheaper options, like Safeway near the Mount Vernon Campus, are far away for the majority of students. In response, this class ought to teach students how to budget for groceries on these new meal plans and utilize them in meal preparation. The class, which could take place in District House or the Marvin Center, should discuss simple but varied healthy recipes that students can cook so students aren’t always cooking grilled chicken. Finally, the class should include information about how to calculate body mass index, or BMI, healthy calorie consumption and warning signs of eating disorders.
While there is a nutrition class offered by the Milken Institute School of Public Health, it’s a three-credit course that would come out of students’ tuition. A free one-time course that boils everything down to the basics would benefit more students.
In attempts to help students budget for food, the dining site currently has a section called “How Students Eat,” where you can see a mock week of where students spend their GWorld on an average week to stay within the former dining plan. However, a study done by GW Food Institute food found that these hypotheticals are far from healthy and don’t include the number of calories in each meal or the costs of groceries. For example, “Alex” skips a meal almost everyday and has meals that consist of nothing but “leftover pizza.” No dietician would ever approve of this diet, and it comes nowhere close to meeting the federal standards for fruits, vegetables and grains.
At a bare minimum, the website must be updated to discourage eating unhealthy foods and prevent eating disorders.
If GW doesn’t want to offer a healthy eating course, then they must at least update the dining website with a healthy mock schedule created by the University that includes a balanced diet. However, a class would still be the best way to teach students how to cook, budget and eat healthy, while the website should serve as another helpful supplementary source of information.
Although the new dining plan is beneficial in providing students with more funds, it does not guarantee healthy lifestyles or provide resources for freshmen without easy access to kitchens. Graduate students have also struggled with food insecurity, but this has not been addressed either. GW partners with more than 90 restaurants where students can eat and pay for meals using their GWorld. But most of these places are fast food options and extremely unhealthy. You can either pay $15 for a salad at Sweetgreen or binge on fried chicken and french fries at Chick-Fil-A for half the price. In fact, eight of the 90 dining partners only serve pizza. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently released a study that shows even one meal eaten at a fast food restaurant per week has been correlated to show an increase in BMI. Even the healthiest dining partners do nothing to help manage portion control. To increase prices and – by default – profits, most restaurants have huge portion sizes that often don’t include fresh fruits and vegetables. This can either encourage binge eating tactics or contribute to students developing eating disorders such as bulimia or anorexia. To address this, the aforementioned course should teach students how to properly store leftovers and list healthy recipes with serving sizes for only one person.
Looking forward, University dining should use the implementation of this new dining plan to create a course to inform students with healthy recipes and how to budget. At a bare minimum, the website must be updated to discourage eating unhealthy foods and prevent eating disorders. This will help students not only eat enough, but eat healthy too.
Colette Bruder, a freshman majoring in international affairs, is a Hatchet opinions writer.
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