Opinion

Loyola’s Dining Halls Fail Students: Why They Need Better Nutrition

Courtesy of Loyola University Chicago

“Ohh, they have no food; I literally had cereal and milk for dinner.”

It isn’t uncommon to overhear someone say this on campus. Although there are essential, healthy and comfort foods available in the dining halls, there aren’t enough options for everyone. There are days, usually on the weekends, when there isn’t even the bare minimum.

People with medical or religious dietary restrictions find it nearly impossible to find anything to eat besides french fries and salad, and fail to meet even the minimum caloric and nutritional requirement some days.

Simpson Dining, which was allergy-friendly and catered to students with special dietary needs, was reverted to a traditional dining hall beginning spring 2019. 

Poor nutrition and unhealthy choices are reasons why obesity and undernourishment are increasing among college students. However, a larger cause of this is the absence of better, healthier options.

Though students can always contact the dining hall staff and manager at Loyola with comments and suggestions, what students really need is dietary advice.

With packed schedules and difficulty balancing personal and academic life, students tend to look for convenience, time, price and taste over nutrition. In the mornings, most students eat a wholesome meal and choose to take fruits, oatmeal and egg preparations, observed a Damen Dining hall staff member. However, she added, when students come later in the day for lunch or exhausted after classes, most of them don’t consciously make choices and grab cookies, pizza slices and sodas because they are famished.

Considering the fact that every on-campus resident student at Loyola is required to have a meal plan — costing an average of $5,000 every year —  nobody gets their money’s worth in terms of food or services.

According to the Loyola website, the regular cost of a meal at the dining halls ranges between $8-10. Students can easily get more satisfaction spending that money at Chipotle or Potbelly. Moreover, students often resort to eating out simply because they’ve started assuming the dining halls will have the same limited options.

Needless to say, taste preference shouldn’t be the only factor when selecting food on a daily basis, but it’s certainly an important aspect and cannot be overlooked.

While the dining hall is expanding the horizon of services and increasing options for special dietary needs, students are hardly aware of it and fail to notice it. 

If there’s a nutrition specialist who inspects and oversees the menu and preparation, and is readily available in the dining hall during certain hours every day for consultation, it would make students more conscious and confident of the food they consume. Students will also have an accessible resource to discuss their specific needs and plan their diets accordingly. With hectic schedules and growing adult responsibilities, being cognizant about diet and nutrition takes a back seat for college students. 

Not all students make time to go to the Wellness Center for nutritional consultancy. Moreover, the services in Halas are focused on physical exercise and personalized plans and trainers are paid. 

Besides a dietician, nutrition-sciences students could also be a part of the system to plan meals and interact with students, which is a form of experiential learning for them as well.

While there are health guidance and advisory pamphlets in the dining halls and flyers for awareness and events that discuss such topics, ready information and a specialized person in the field will be more effective in creating a difference as students usually make an effort to pick up pamphlets and read about it. If there’s a person present in the dining halls, it not only encourages students to reach out but also is a reminder for them to take care of their health. 

At home, parents oversee eating habits and ensure proper nutrition, but the lifestyle of a person develops during the college years when they make independent decisions every day. It’s crucial to give more weight to student wellness and to carrying out an examined execution of the efforts to optimize healthy choices among college students. 

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