After years of talk, students are eating healthier

A student chooses her meal at a food station in Crossroads Culinary Center. UB dining officials say students have been asking for healthier food options and are now actually eating that way.

Published October 16, 2013

We’ve seen students transition to soy milk. We’re going through about four times as much as last year. It’s a great healthy choice.
Jeff Brady, Director
Campus Dining and Shops

For years, UB dining officials have heard students talk about eating healthier:What we really want are more vegetables, fruits and whole grain foods. And when it was meal show time and the students had to choose, they did what they always have done. They grabbed pizza, burgers and fries.

Not any more, say campus dining staff and management. UB officials watching over student eating habits have noticed some unmistakable shifts. Not only are students saying they want healthier food options, they actually are eating that way.

“Over the past few years, our Campus Dining and Shops has received an increase in comments from students, faculty and staff looking for food that reflects an increased awareness of eating healthier and staying fit,” says Raymond Kohl, marketing manager for UB Campus Dining and Shops.

“Chicken wings, pizza and burgers are always going to be student favorites, but we also hear and see students making sensible choices,” says Kohl. “From the steel-cut oatmeal at Jamba Juice to the fresh fruit parfaits at Bert’s, our customers are looking for a variety of healthier eating options.

“They want to have ways to incorporate some healthy eating habits into their routine.”

These days, campus dining workers—from top management to those watching the daily choices from the front lines of the serving areas—have noticed some changes. Students are actually voting with their hands—in emails—and appetites—in actual food choices.

Consider this email from UB student Matthew Waldman:

“I would like to thank the Goodyear dining staff with a special thank you to the lady with the blonde hair (Roseanne Wiktor, kitchen manager) who is usually around for meals,” wrote Waldman. “I greatly appreciate all of the healthy options that were made available for this year. It is very important to teach students, especially freshmen, to eat well. “Over the past few days, I have been overly satisfied with the brown rice, whole wheat garlic bread, whole wheat pasta. This is a great start! I would love to see if whole wheat pizza would be able to be tried out for the dining hall. Thanks again!”

Campus dining officials, who preside over some of the most dramatic and largest food-service operations in this part of the state, can do more than tell stories to back up their claims.

“From results in our annual National Association of College and University Food Services (NACUFS) Customer Satisfaction Survey, there has been a steady increase in how important “nutritional content,” “variety of healthy menu choices” and “variety of vegetarian options” are here at UB,” says Kohl.

When asked how important nutritional content was, 86 percent of the students responding in 2010 said somewhat or very important. Two years later, that percentage increased to 88.

 In 2010, 83 percent of the students said having a variety of healthy menu choices was somewhat or very important. In 2012, that number increased to 86 percent. When asked about having a variety of vegetarian options, 59 percent said it was somewhat or very important in 2010. Two years later, that increased to 61 percent.

While these increases are not huge, campus dining officials see them as significant, especially when put together with other information officials have seen, such as their instincts and observations on the daily serving line.

 And UB campus dining has answered the call. UB has added more vegetarian options across campus. For example, a second Edgy Veggies location opens this fall inside Bert’s Food Court (Talbert Hall, North Campus). All three residential dining centers serve fresh-cut fruit each day. Guests can customize many entree choices to be vegetarian.

Bravo Pasta, part of Pistachio’s restaurant in the Student Union, now serves whole grain pasta.

Another healthy option that customers will find this year is a band new line of hummus made fresh on campus by Campus Dining and Shops. Flavors include white bean, black bean, roasted red pepper, garlic and classic (plain).

“Hummus is a great vegetarian option, plus it is high in protein,” says Caryn Hufford, Campus Dining and Shops’ registered dietitian. 

In the residential dining centers, students are literally eating up a new item called quinoa (pronounced “keen-wah”), according to Kohl. It’s a delicious, highly nutritious, grain-like crop from South America. Served cooked, it’s high in protein, low in fat and an excellent source of iron and magnesium.

Jeff Brady, director of Campus Dining and Shops, has his own observations, in particular about habits in the residential dining centers.

  • Brady says there has been a “huge” switch from regular milk to soy milk, which has substantially more calcium than regular milk. “We’ve seen students transition to soy milk,” he says. “We’re going through about four times as much as last year. It’s a great healthy choice.”
  • Egg whites have become more popular in omelets made in all dining centers. People are asking for less meat in their omelets,” he says, “and spinach has grown five times in our units. Everybody wants spinach.”
  • Low-fat yogurt bars have been popular in each dining center. But in the next two weeks, UB is changing to Greek yogurt, which contains no fat.  “There is a little bit of a cost associated with Greek yogurt,” says Brady, “but it’s the right thing to do to give students a choice. They’re one of the most popular food bars in the morning.”
  • Campus dining is trying to get students to move away from sugary drinks, Brady says. “A lot more students get their beverages out of water machines on campus,” he says. “We’re offering chilled and carbonated water, which has no sugar whatsoever. We’re telling students it’s the healthier choice.”
  • The healthier habits are evident in salads, too. “Our salad bars always have lines,” he says. “Students gravitate right toward these salad bars. They also are more conscious about the dressing they’re using. Students are reading labels, looking for the light dressing that has fewer calories. That’s a great sign.”
  • Campus dining officials removed all salt-and-pepper shakers from the tables. “We are having the students go to the spice centers,” Brady says. “We’ve cut our salt-purchasing by 60 percent by doing this. That’s a win-win. Hopefully, we’re educating our students at the same time.”