Week one of the semester has just begun and with that comes my first encounter with the dining hall food system I am about to live with for the next 5 months. I was extremely excited to see what on earth goes on behind these closed doors, and whether it was really anything like you see in the movies!

So far the key things I have noticed are:

1. There is a real effort going on here to offer the students options that include healthy choices. Sodexo is the catering company responsible for the RPI campus and I can see that within the different dining halls they have a range of leaflets that explain their “balanced eating” concept, which to most dietitians looks similar to “the plate model- 1/2 veggies, 1/4 protein, 1/4 high fibre carbohydrate” as well as promoting dairy consumption. In one of the dining halls they actually have a separate station which has a staff member serving up a meal that is supposed to reflect this. The reason I say “supposed to” is that I still noticed that the “high fibre carbohydrate” last night was a white high fat tortilla that they used to wrap the grilled chicken, cheese and vegetable salsa in the mexican dishes being made (not high fibre if you ask me!), and that the salad on the side was optional (and I saw many students saying they would pass on the salad and just take the taco!).

2. There are a lot of high fat, high salt and refined carbohydrate sources that the students are still opting for. Every lunch and dinner meal so far I have seen burger and fries trays, pizzas topped with salty meats and cheeses, cakes and biscuits, ice cream, and sugar rich soda beverages being served and consumed…and we wonder why there is a weight problem..?!

3. Back on the positives, at every meal there is a huge salad bar with everything chopped up for you, including lean sources of protein such as boiled eggs, chickpeas and kidney beans, along with non starchy vegetables and dressings on the side that you can choose between if you would like to add them. There are also vegetable soups that appear to be home made, that do not taste overly salty and have a nutritional panel on the label to help inform the students that are interested to know what they are consuming.









4. Milk- In Australia I often hear about adolescents not consuming enough dairy or milk. I have been shocked by the huge milk machines that offer 4 varieties of plain milk (full cream, 2%, half and half, skim) that the students go up to with their glass (slightly large really, being 450mls if I take an educated guess) and fill to the brim!

5. Fresh vs frozen and heated. I have found that some of the dining halls provide an array of meal options that appear to be cooked fresh and the ingredients really are of an acceptable level. On the other hand, I have had a meal one night at another dining hall which tasted like meat balls that had been heated from a frozen package, put in some tomato sauce and thrown over spaghetti to be called spaghetti bolognese (which yes technically it is, but I wouldn’t quite say it was up to anyones standards!)









As you can see, there certainly are healthy options that you can choose..so I think what it might come down to next is asking whether the students are actually educated enough on this topic, and controlled enough to resist all the other high fat, sodium and refined carbohydrate based meals (and if they really need to be offered at EVERY meal..).

Now given  I was being a bit of a detective and taking photos in the dining hall, I did get caught out by the management and questioned for what I was doing. After introducing myself and explaining that I was harmless, we moved forward to me suggesting that I work with them to improve the catering system for the students whilst I am here on campus. Lets just say the regional manager has sent an email already and the meeting is being set up…lets hope by the time I’m done with this school there really will be some changes that can be implemented across the board at a range of Sodexo run college canteens in the States!

This post clearly will be continued…

The Travelling Dietitian x

About The Author

Kara Landau aka "Travelling Dietitian" is an Australian Accredited Practicing Dietitian based in New York City. She is a world explorer, healthy foodie, social butterfly, and barre class lover. When she isn't trying new cuisines, researching new product innovations in the health food space, or speaking to the media on behalf of her food industry clients, she can be found quietly conjuring up her next idea in how to make this world a healthier and better place.

4 Responses

  1. Ash Jones APD

    Good to see that there are some healthy options available for those motivated and educated enough to make the choice. And hilarious that you got busted by management! Can’t wait to see how that project goes.

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