The healthier side of college dining

by Genny Boots, News Writer

Imagine the pop of a button, the squeeze of your old jeans, and the uncomfortable realization that you have gained a few pounds. The “freshman 15” is a common saying that puts fear into first-year college students as they head off to school and away from their family’s eating habits.

Universities nationwide have responded to this fear by advertising healthier meal and snack choices for students. The Pacific Lutheran University Dining and Culinary team undertook this challenge as they choose what food to put on the plate, the shelves and in the hands of the PLU community.

Tom Harvey is the retail manager for Dining and Culinary Services. He oversees the The Nook in Hauge Administration Building, The Kelly Cafe in Morken, Tahoma Bakery and Cafe and The Old Main Market.

Harvey is responsible for the products that fill the shelves at the four campus eateries. He works with a Dining and Culinary Services team to pick both the “healthy” and “unhealthy” items that students want.

“You see the whole spectrum,” Harvey said. “From gummy bears and sour worms to organic salads.”

The Old Main Market is the hub of all the on-campus eateries, with nearly 1500 transactions daily. The most popular items bought are bagels, the house-made yogurt parfaits and the sausage, egg and cheese breakfast sandwiches. Other top sellers include Tillamook cheese squares, bananas and bottled organic smoothies.

Whether it is a quick protein bar or bagel on-the-go, Harvey understands that students are increasingly asking for healthier and more convenient options.

“What came clear to me is that convenience factor,” Harvey said. “We want to eat healthy, but we also want it transportable, so have something in a container that is easy to transport or put in your backpack is important too.”

But is there enough healthy food to battle the freshman flabbiness?

“I think a lot of students when they get away, it’s stressful, and so sometimes we go for the unhealthy things. So we want to be sure that there are enough healthy options out there to give you a choice,” Harvey said.

Though Harvey and his colleagues in Dining and Culinary Services try their best to bring organic, locally sourced food when possible, students are not always impressed with the results.

“There is nothing at The Old Main Market that I eat for health reasons. Just for hunger,” first-year Clayton Regehr said. “I will usually get a Brisk Ice Tea, doughnuts and pizza bagels. High in sodium and a whole lot of apathy.”

The communication between what students want to eat and what PLU brings to campus is settled in bimonthly dining committee meetings.

“Anyone can go to these meetings,” sophomore Reza Refaei said. Refaei has attended these meetings for over a year.
“No one ever goes because either they don’t know about it, don’t think they can go or don’t have an interest,” Refaei said.

Refaei has seen positive changes in the products that are served to students. Through his attendance he has spearheaded the addition of the University Commons Good Thing’s sunbutter and raspberry jelly sandwich, and more rice and vegetable options, despite the progress that he has seen come from these meetings.

“I think that there could be a lot more options in terms of fresh fruit and a lot of the snacks tend to not be on the healthier side and the healthier options seem to be significantly more expensive,” Refaei said.

For now, both Harvey and Refaei recommend students to get involved and take responsibility to see change. There are comment cards, the Culinary Services Facebook page and the online website to leave suggestions.

“We monitor that daily and we try to respond same day to the queries that we get,” Harvey said. “We love the feedback, and that is really how we drive change. That is an exciting piece of the puzzle.” 🅼

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