Earlier this year, Tufts was ranked as one of the top 25 healthiest colleges in the United States by Greatist, an Internet media startup focusing on health and fitness. Between late nights at Tisch Library, running to club meetings, going to class and attempting to get enough sleep, college is a true balancing act. Finding the time to eat properly and exercise often falls by the wayside, so when it comes down to it, how healthy and nutrition-conscious are Tufts students?
A study by the American College Health Association , which surveyed more than 150 schools and more than 96,000 students, found that while only about five percent of national college students reached USDA fruit and vegetable intake recommendations, an impressive 20 percent of Tufts students reached those levels.
One resource to help students stay healthy is Balance Your Life , a healthy lifestyle club from the Department of Health Education at Tufts.
Beth Farrow, health education and prevention specialist and a staff member of BYL, explained that Tufts students are typically highly cognizant of health issues.
I think Tufts students are very much aware of health issues and wanting to maintain a healthy and balanced life while in college, Farrow said.
The struggle to maintain a healthy lifestyle begins as soon as Tufts students arrive on campus, according to Farrow. As freshmen, students are required to be on the unlimited meal plan. While there might be a tendency for students to overeat in the dining halls, this kind of buffet mentality dissipates after being on the meal plan over time, she said.
With the most popular meal plan option being 160, Tufts Nutrition Marketing Specialist Julie Lampie said she believed that students are probably eating healthier in the dining halls than they would be by cooking for themselves.
The more choices that are available, the better, she said. Students tend to make better choices having greater variety.
According to data from last years dining survey, students ranked a desire for more variety as the third most important factor to improvement of the dining halls and a wish for healthier options as fifth.
When looking at the top choices for dinner, the number one item is General Gaus chicken, followed by breaded chicken tenders and salmon. According to Lampie, while the first two items are deep fat fried, salmon has recently become a much more popular item, appearing five times in the top ten food items.
There was a time when very few students ate salmon, and you can see it is our number one fish by popularity, so food trends do change, Lampie said.
According to Lampie, more people have also been asking for more vegan and vegetarian options.
Over time the vegetarian population has definitely increased, Lampie said. I think some of that interest in eating lower on the food chains is for environmental reasons, but for the most part its about health.
Lampie discussed the deliberate layout of the dining halls in order to encourage students to make healthy choices. For example, in the Dewick-MacPhie Dining Hall, the station closest to the entrance serves vegetarian food.
If you watch the pattern, students will go through that line to see if anything looks good, Lampie said. They are not thinking, Oh this is vegetarian. If it looks good they are going to take it.
Sophomore Jenn Rabbino, education materials coordinator of BYL, agreed that the layout influences what students choose to eat.
In [Carmichael Dining Center], the salad bar is in the center, so you gravitate towards it, she said.
Lampie said she always strives to include fresh ingredients when selecting the menu and recently has been trying to incorporate more locally grown and seasonable vegetables. Three vegetables are offered for students so that they are encouraged to find one that is palatable, she said.
At Tufts its not all about the least expensive option, she said. The priority is first quality, nutritional value, thirdly price. We try to balance that out.
The Real Food Challenge, a new student group on campus currently seeking Tufts Community Union Senate recognition, aims to increase the amount of sustainable and fairly sourced food available in the dining centers.
While the creators of The Real Food Challenge are currently working through some administrative hurdles, co-founder Meghan Bodo said that Tufts Dining is supportive. Bodo, a junior, got the idea last summer and the group has about ten members so far.
Tufts Dining already values sustainably produced food and as such has been supportive of our request, she said.
Sophomore Mel Goldberg said that although Tufts offers healthy food options, she would like to have more information about where the food actually comes from.
We have a great salad bar, and we have a good rep for being such a veggie friendly and sustainable dining hall, she said. But I really have no idea where any of the produce is coming from, so I think it would be really interesting to get more clarity on that.
The Real Food Challenge is just one way that Tufts students are expressing their interest in nutrition-related issues. Tufts Dining has responded by including healthier options on menus and by changing dessert portion sizes, like cutting brownie sheets into 84ths instead of 70ths.
When we try to put new menu items on, Im not looking for deep fat fried high saturated fat items, Im looking for a fresher more nutritious product that we can bring to students, Lampie said.
Lampie offered her best tips for eating right in the dining halls.
One of the strategies is always of course to either look at the menu ahead or peruse the choices before taking your plate and actually taking food, she said.12