College meal plans offer a cornucopia of food options for on-campus eating, but eating healthy requires more than just fruits and vegetables. The myth commonly thrown around that students will gain the “Freshman 15” during their first year of college because due to a lack of healthy options can be overcome, even with a meal plan.
Leone Douma, general manager for the MTC and the Commons, said choices offered in conjunction with meal plans can be nutritious.
“We offer nutritional information for most food items that we prepare on a Cannon Dining APP,” Douma said in an e-mail. “We have a dietician that is on site every Tuesday to provide nutritional help. We offer a variety of healthy food choices for the student to choose from.”
Professor Lora Beth Brown, in the department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food Sciences, said while there is no research or evidence to support the Freshman 15 myth, she does believe that students may struggle to eat healthy when they first begin college.
“(Freshman students) are on their own for the first time and now can make choices,” Brown said. “There are a lot of choices, and if you’re living in the residence halls, there are a zillion things to choose from, and they all look pretty good.”
Kailey Trussel, a 20-year-old junior from Redmond, Wash., faced the challenge of too many choices as a freshman.
“The Cannon Center has lots of options, but instead of choosing, you eat a ton of everything,” Trussel said. “I took advantage of eating so much food at the Cannon Center. I ate a big meal whenever I went.”
Another problem freshmen face is the ability to use their meal plan cards on vending machines. Vending machines occasionally offer a few choices of fruits or vegetables but usually contain unhealthy snacks and desserts.
“It was the vending machine’s fault,” Trussel said. “Late at night my roommate and I would be bored so we would walk downstairs to grab munchies, and we thought it was bonding time.”
Brown also saw vending machines as one downside to a meal plan.
“Because students want to get their money’s worth, with any extra credit on their meal plan they may go to the vending machine and use up their daily allotment on stuff that may not be nutritious,” Brown said.
Parker Lund, an 18-year-old freshman from Laguna Beach, Calif.; Joey Zambrano, an 18-year-old freshman from Laguna Nigel, Calif.; and Chandler Lattin, a 17-year-old freshman from Laguna Nigel, Calif., all agree that eating becomes an activity to do with friends once you leave home.
“Often times eating is a social activity,” Lattin said. “This can make it healthier because I tend to eat slower when I’m with others because we’re also having conversations.”
They also all said their food choices are generally healthier in college with a meal plan than they were at home.
“The Cannon Center offers a lot of options,” Zambrano said. “I eat healthier here than I did at home because the choices are so readily available.”
The Cannon Center offers various resources to help students stay healthy. Brown said eating good food is easy to do if students are careful about what they choose to eat and how much they choose to eat. Even with a meal plan and a variety of eating options, students can avoid the “Freshman 15” by choosing healthy foods and paying attention to nutritional information.
“The good old tried-and-true information about eating a variety of foods, not too much, not too little, vary your choices and enjoy your meals, that really seems to be what stands the test of time,” Brown said.