I’m sure we’re all aware of the phrase “Freshman 15,” the weight that the average college freshman puts on their first year in college. Well actually the average college freshman gains an average of 5-15 pounds their freshman year, with 5 pounds gained their first semester away. Why is that? Well, I believe a big part of the reason is the change in diet. Students go from eating school lunches and having home-cooked dinners, to facing an all-you-can-eat buffet three times a day! WVU’s dining halls are full of tempting food that can definitely add to the waistline– free Krispy Kremes, 12 flavors of ice cream, jars of Nutella and peanut butter, french fries, chicken nuggets, hamburgers, pizza, and a dozen flavors of sugary beverages. It’s easy to see how a student can gain 15 pounds over the course of 9 months of school just from the change in their diet…it breaks down to just eating an extra 200 calories a day! It is easy for me to look at hundreds of options in the dining hall and quickly decipher which are healthy and which are unhealthy, but I’ve also been studying nutrition for 5 years. The average college student might have a tougher time knowing which items are going to be nutritious and which items are just empty calories.
That’s where Healthy U comes in to play. Healthy U is a program designed by West Virginia University Dining Services and is a tool students can use to learn about nutrition and healthy choices. It takes the guesswork out of eating healthy! What’s also great is that it is a comprehensive program that contains the Healthy U meal plan; nutrition education via a “Wellness Center” that describes the program, different nutrition topics, and the Healthy U diet for that day; free one-on-one nutritional counseling sessions with the staff registered dietitian; and group meetings and focus groups conducted by dietetic interns or the staff RD on a variety of nutrition topics.
How it works is that each Healthy U diet for the day is composed of 3 meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) that have been analyzed for their nutrient value. Each meal has less than 20% of your daily value (DV) for fat, saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol. Plus, each meal contains at least 20% DV for dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and iron. The diet/menu for each day is based on a 2000 calorie diet, so breakfast is 400-500 calories, lunch is 500-600 calories, and dinner is 600-700 calories, leaving 200-300 calories for snacks throughout the day. Each Healthy U item is labeled with the Healthy U logo, the name of the dish, the serving size, and a nutrition facts label. Students can simply choose the Healthy U entrée each meal, add a piece of fruit or hit up the salad bar, then fill in with appropriate beverages and snacks (skim milk or water with your meal, coffee with breakfast, and/or a 150 calorie scoop of ice cream after lunch), and they can feel confident knowing they have eaten healthy that day and met the appropriate nutrition recommendations.
The 2000 calorie diet, as recommended by the FDA, should contain:
- total fat: less than 65 g
- saturated fat: less than 20 g
- cholesterol: less than 300 mg
- sodium: less than 2,400 mg
- fiber: greater or equal to 25 g
- total carbohydrates: 300 g (does not contain a large amount of sugar)
I have personally had 3 Healthy U lunches this week. The first one was “Tasty Hawaiian Pockets” — a pita bread pocket filled with pineapple chunks, feta cheese, and cottage cheese. Very Hawaiian and great blend of flavors. The other Healthy U lunch was a veggie sandwich. This was excellent- the bun was toasted just right, and the cooked eggplant, mushroom, and assorted veggies were really tasty. The last Healthy U item I had was a pita bread pocket filled with shredded chicken, mozzarella cheese, raw spinach, and a mix of cooked mushrooms, red peppers, and onions. This was my favorite, but I did add some hummus from the salad bar to make the pita sandwich a little less dry.
I think its great to have such fresh, flavorful, and healthy items available on a daily basis for the students at WVU. University dining hall food can have a bad rep, but so far the Healthy U items I’ve tried haven’t disappointed me. The Healthy U items are also placed right after the french fries, fried fish, and other items…so I think the placement encourages those who just piled their plate with fries to look at the Healthy U item and maybe try some of it.
And don’t they sound delicious?
- Black Bean Sweet Potato Quesadilla
- Blueberry Pancakes
- Cilantro Chicken Salad
- Italian Flank Steak
- Peach Sauced Pork
- Mexican Tortilla Soup
- Peanut Noodle with Shrimp
- Spicy Southern BBQ Chicken
- Vegetable Stuffed Turkey Breast
Mmmm! You can find a list of some of the Healthy U items here along with the corresponding nutrition information. And check out Healthy U on Facebook, too! I really believe if someone with little to no nutrition knowledge consistently eats the Healthy U items and faithfully participates the Healthy U nutrition education programs, they will soon have the knowledge and confidence to choose healthy items on their own wherever they chose to eat. AND they will avoid the dreaded “Freshman 15”!