Eating a balanced diet is difficult for any college student. Between juggling classes, extracurricular activities, jobs and a social life, finding the time to fuel your body can be difficult and to top it off, it’s also often expensive. GW’s untraditional dining doesn’t make it any easier for students to make the right choices.
GW Dining should make a conscious effort to provide additional nutritional information for its dining partners and offer suggestions, like where to find the healthiest food and what proper serving sizes look like, to lead students in the right direction to staying healthy.
The University’s dining system is anything but ordinary. Instead of relying on dining halls and meal swipes like students do at many of GW’s peer schools – including Boston and New York universities – students depend on an open dining plan that has students spending meal plan money at restaurants and eateries across campus and the District. The switch to an open plan, initiated in 2016, came after students expressed dissatisfaction with the amount required to be spent at campus dining halls like J Street, the pay-per-pound dining hall on the Foggy Bottom Campus, and at Pelham Commons, which has the same setup on the Mount Vernon Campus.
Further changes to the dining plan were implemented this year. Instead of allocating dining dollar amounts based on a student’s grade, the University announced that students without kitchens would receive $4,600 per academic year and those with kitchens would receive $2,800 per academic year for the meal plan.
Even with these efforts to improve the dining plan, students said the system contributes to food insecurity and eating disorders, partly because the vendors offer a myriad of unhealthy options. To continue combatting these criticisms and to encourage students to make healthy choices, GW needs to provide students with more resources, like information on nutrition, serving sizes and vendors with the healthiest food.
While GW Dining boasts more than 105 dining partners on campus and around the city, more than half of those options offer foods high in calories, fat and sodium. These dining partners mostly include fast food restaurants that offer students few nutritional options, but these vendors are also some of the most convenient, closest options for students. While there are some restaurants that are healthier – like those that sell salads, vegetarian options and natural foods – those options are limited and expensive.
Because college students are so busy balancing college life, the typical student’s eating habits are relatively poor. While college students are aware of the importance of proper nutrition, a 2018 study from the Journal of Nutrition and Human Health found that they tend to consume food based on convenience. It’s easier to grab a sandwich and fries from Chick-fil-A than to cook your own meals, for example, and processed foods, like chips and cookies, are easier and cheaper to get your hands on than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Overall, 14 of the restaurants available to students on the dining plan offer complete nutritional information. The Food and Drug Administration’s Menu Labeling Final Rule requires that restaurants with more than 20 locations display total calories on menu boards. The rule also requires that restaurants make certain information, including total fat, cholesterol, sodium, sugar and protein, available upon request.
Sweetgreen and Roti Mediterranean Grill, for example, provide calorie counts for their options, but GW should seek additional information from vendors on campus so students have all the information necessary to make healthy eating choices.
GW has made strides to help students make healthy choices, like implementing a dining representative program where students post recommendations for specific diets like vegetarian, kosher and gluten-free.
It’s important for students to have this information because many college students lack key nutrients, like vitamin B12, iron, calcium and zinc. Because the average college student’s diet is based on convenience, college students will continue to be deficient in these nutrients until they become more informed about nutrition and healthy eating.
GW Dining should make an effort to ensure students are knowledgeable not only about healthy options on GWorld, but also about the nutritional facts of all of the food offered on the dining plan. The University should also improve its resources for students to include more helpful tips, like where to eat and proper serving sizes. Staying healthy doesn’t have to be hard, and universities can better support students by providing them with adequate resources for eating well and getting the proper nutrients.
Christina DeBartolomeo, a junior majoring in journalism, is a Hatchet columnist.
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