By Mara Steine on February 21, 2013
Walk into any dining hall on campus and you’ll feel like you’ve hit the food jackpot when you spot pizza, fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies and French fries just waiting for you to pick them up. It’s not hard to give into temptation when the food choices are limitless and the most time-consuming task is choosing what you’d like to eat. Eating on the meal plan is convenient for many students, but it’s almost too convenient for the extra pounds to creep up. Now, imagine honey citrus glazed salmon, veggie lasagna spirals and pulled chicken sandwiches. No, this isn’t food from the meal plan or a restaurant downtown, but the University Health Center Nutrition Kitchen where students learn how to cook low-cost and healthy meals that fit into their tight budget.
In college, keeping off dreaded, though sometimes inevitable, extra weight is no easy feat. Whether students are on the meal plan or are cooking for themselves, it is often difficult to consistently make healthy eating choices or create nutritious meals. To guide students to make informed choices about food and nutrition, the university has many resources available, many of which are unknown to students.
Benjamin Gray, the University Health Center Nutrition Education Coordinator, runs the classes. Gray is a registered dietician, and his classes feature healthy meals catered towards a college student’s budget. Participants help make the meals, and they also enjoy the food they have prepared. Every class is $5 and students will perform the steps in the recipe and discuss the nutritional benefits of each meal with Gray. Students can also learn ways to lower sodium and fat content in their meals while maintaining the taste.
“The Nutrition Kitchen is a tool that demonstrates to students that preparing healthy and delicious food for themselves is a useful skill that is well within their grasp,” says Gray. One of the many benefits from these classes is promoting good health while still providing a fun and helpful learning experience.
Despite the healthy options the meal plan offers, many students are unaware of these options or do not take advantage of them. Nutrition services are free for students on the meal plan and include meeting with a dietitian to discuss nutritional goals and ways to achieve those goals while eating in the dining halls. The Eating Smart program is an eight-class course for students that aids in developing a healthy lifestyle through combining food and exercise.
Katherine Ingerson, a Registered Dietician for UGA Food Services who counsels students on the meal plan, believes there are many healthy options at the dining halls, but students must take advantage of them. All foods have a symbol indicating nutritional benefits. For example, a red bone signifies the healthiest foods on the menu and items with a purple heart have 30% or fewer calories from fat. Ingerson recommends one healthy meal option of sautéing vegetables at the omelet station, putting them over brown rice or adding a protein like grilled chicken or black beans. Being aware of sources of empty calories, like sweets, soda and alcohol is critical when trying to eat right.
Eating healthily off campus is difficult, and many students who live off campus don’t gain weight their freshman year, but rather their sophomore year. Ingerson reminds students not to forget about vegetables when they are cooking. If fresh vegetables are not an option, frozen vegetables offer the same amount of nutritional value as fresh ones and will not go bad if not eaten for several weeks.
Gray suggests that students try to prepare as many meals as possible for themselves. “That could mean a goal of preparing two or twelve meals per week. It could also mean using dining hall recipe cards to build your own meals if you don’t have a kitchen.” Aiming for a healthier lifestyle is more important than losing a few dollars on a burned meal, so it is important to keep trying to improve homemade meals.
Exercise is an important factor in staying healthy, but many college students don’t get enough of it. “The easiest way to be active at UGA is to take advantage of Georgia’s beautiful and hilly campus. Walking one mile at 3.5 – 4 miles per hour burns almost as many calories as running the same distance,” said Ingerson. Students can exercise by simply walking around campus instead of taking the bus to and from classes.
In college where classes are hard and sleep is sacred, it’s refreshing to know that staying healthy isn’t a ridiculous equation or something worth losing sleep over.