Friday, February 5, 2010

College Cafeteria's: Diet Disasters

I've learned from past mistakes and on my most recent road to self improvement, I've decided I'm not taking the heavy-handed hardcore diet approach. (I mean, the last time I was in bed with That Man he ran his hand over my stomach and told me to go back to the kitchen and down a few more slices of pizza. What more motivation does a girl need to NOT diet quite so fiercely?) However, after subsequently falling off the wagon completely, I am definitely interested in being a little less mushy, and definitely more healthy.

I've been shopping for healthier food, and cooking a lot more, which is all well and good. I've tried to go back to drinking more water and tea, and not overdosing on snack foods. This works out pretty well for me, with one giant exception - my school's cafeteria.

For anyone who has ever tried to diet, or at least maintain healthy eating habits, you probably know that making healthy choices that taste good is enough of a challenge when you've got a wide variety of foods at your disposal. In a school cafeteria, this becomes nearly impossible.

One of the first issues comes in with the food served from behind the counters. For starters, there is no such thing as portion control. You get whatever the person behind the counter scoops onto your plate, even if it's more or less than the suggested serving size - and more often than not, it's more. I watch them heap pasta onto plates, slather rolls with mayonnaise and pile cheese and turkey high on sandwiches - which, for how much they charge us for this food, is probably good, but as far as eating healthy portions, is a disaster.

As if it's not bad enough that you have no idea how much you're eating (most people do not know how to approximate a proper serving size), none of the food is marked with any sort of nutritional information. I'm sure that the information could be provided to you if requested, but if you've seen my cafeteria during peak eating hours, you'd know that waiting around until someone is free to get you that information is pretty pointless.

Based on the food that they serve, I'd guess that the food in my cafeteria has high sodium and fat contents, and a pretty poor balance of carbs, proteins, and vegetables. They always have vegetarian options, but rarely are they an option that has any nutritional value (pasta and marinara sauce, baked ziti, etc.), and vegetables that are served as sides are often not the best from a dietary perspective (corn, potatoes) or are something that too few students will even bother with (brussel sprouts). Not exactly helpful. I'm not even going to mention what comes out of the grill (though they finally, FINALLY serve veggie burgers on a consistent basis - thank goodness!).

Perhaps worse than the food behind the counter though, are the prepackaged foods available. First off, if you want a snack, prepare to throw 200 of your daily calories down the tube at the very least, because that's the lowest I've seen on any bag of chips or cereal or candy bar offered. The fat content is even worse. They stopped carrying Special K bars in favor of Cinnabon's line of cereal bars. The breakfast pastries are so full of sugar that I don't know how you can eat them and not crash shortly after. Refrigerators are filled with fake fruit juices and energy drinks. You can even purchase a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream out of the freezer. And yet, finding a bag of pretzels, or a piece of fresh fruit that is actually ripe, and not bruised beyond belief is nearly impossible. We do have a selection of salads, but sadly, no healthy dressing options.

I know I sound like I'm taking a totality elitist and holier-than-thou look at my cafeteria, but really, with obesity rates on the rise, I look at an environment like that and all I can say is "Do you really wonder WHY?" I mean, really, we're not even giving our young people a CHANCE. It's such a challenge to make the healthier choice in a place that has limited your options so much, and when you're on the run in between classes, you're going to grab whatever you can down the fastest, regardless of the calories involved. I know, I've been there. It's ten times easier for me to grab a fruit juice and a cereal bar than it is for me to sit down, make a cup of tea, and scoop my fat free yogurt into one of their to-go bowls of Cheerios, but I think we all know which one is the healthier breakfast.

Grabbing a fat free yogurt and an English Muffin with peanut butter or light cream cheese is getting extremely redundant to me and I'm going nuts, but having so many textbooks to carry, I am reluctant to bring more food than I already do. (I generally bring my own oatmeal to make in a coffee cup, and some sort of snack).

Is your cafeteria a diet disaster? Do you find eating right harder when you're subject to the selection of a college or high school cafeteria? Does your cafeteria have loads of healthy choices for you to choose from? Do you think that the meals that children and young adults are getting at school are having a serious effect on their eating habits?


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