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Making Health Food Choices on Campus with ‘Mindful’

By Chelsey Pierce 

Most college students have heard of “freshman 15”. The term refers to the amount of weight gained during a student’s first year at college. Unhealthy eating habits in college can lead to lower grades, illness, fatigue, and other side effects. 

Self-serve style dining, late night snacks, fast food, delivery, alcohol consumption, and cheap ramen. It’s no surprise many students find themselves gaining weight after getting to college. 

Campus dining staff should be motivating students to eat a balanced diet consisting of grains, proteins, dairy, fruits, and vegetables. Planning healthy meals in advance can help students save time and money in college. But how reasonable is that? 

Whether on or off campus, regardless of meal plan, you will have plenty of opportunities to find the fuel you need to study, participate in class, exercise and get through your day, according to the Merrimack College dining website. 

The dining choices on campus this school year are McQuade Café & Pizzeria, Sparky’s Place, Warrior’s Den, Merrimack Food Truck, and Majors & Minors Eatery. There are also four different coffee shops. Dunkin Donuts, Sanctuary Coffeehouse, The Warrior’s Den, and McQuade Café.

“Compared to other colleges I have visited and ate at, I think there is something that needs to be changed with our on campus food,” said Mike Gonzalez, a senior at Merrimack. “I constantly spend money getting food from off campus, I would like to see more food that looks and tastes appealing.” 

Laura Klotz is Merrimack’s dietician. Her role, to educate students on maintaining a healthy diet. She is available for complimentary consultations, on topics such as food allergies, celiac disease, or other special dietary needs. 

If you need help navigating healthier options on the menu, or would like information on vegan and vegetarian lifestyles, the dietician is a great resource. 

“Healthy Eating” is one of Merrimack’s dining initiatives that shares additional information on the dining team’s plan to support dietary needs. Currently, the team has added allergen and diet icons to the menu, making it easier for students. 

Click the allergen icon to exclude menu items containing allergens like peanut, milk, eggs, wheat, soybean, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, and gluten. Or, click diet icons to include menu items meeting the diet criteria. This is helpful for vegetarians, vegans, or those wanting to be mindful of their choices. 

Sodexo is the food service Merrimack partners with. Mindful is Sodexo’s health and wellness approach that helps others make healthy choices. Next time you see a campus daily dining menu, look for the Mindful icon or one of the icons mentioned. 

“The Mindful icon as well as the other icons you can easily click on to view what food falls in it’s category on the menu,” said Missy Uhrynowskii, a junior at Merrimack. “I have found this feature very useful when looking for healthier options on the menu.” 

The Mindful icon reveals the meal is limited in calories, has fewer than 30% of calories as fat, fewer than 10% of calories as saturated fat, and is restricted in sodium, and cholesterol. 

According to a study published in 2014 in the journal Preventive Medicine, 95% of college students fail to eat the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables, and more than 60% report not getting enough physical activity. 

Once eating habits are established freshman year, changing them can be more difficult than changing something else about your daily routine. That is why college campuses are becoming PHA Healthier Campus Initiative Partners.

The college has to commit to implementing a total of 23 of 41 available recommendations over a period of 3 years. These include food, beverage, and nutrition-related efforts, according to PHA, an initiative devoted to transforming the food landscape in pursuit of health equity. 

At Merrimack, there is currently no information on if they will become a part of PHA Healthier Campus Initiative Partners. At this time, they partner with the YMCA for healthier kids. 

Kyle McInnis, Sc.D., health sciences chair at Merrimack College and the creator of Active Science, was awarded a $500,000 grant by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in partnership with the Merrimack Valley YMCA. 

“I think the partnership with the YMCA for healthier kids shows the passion many have to create a healthier lifestyle,” Gonzalez said. “I think a good amount of students would benefit and be interested in joining a student organization club centered around healthy eating habits.” For more information on how to maintain a healthy diet, contact Merrimack’s dietitian Laura Klotz. And remember, college dining spots are meant to feed many students quickly three times a day. They’re not typically going to be producing top tier restaurant food.