Opinion: It’s more than possible to have a healthy diet at ASU's dining halls

The dining hall is a great place to supplement a balanced diet

College is one of the most important transition periods for many young adults.

Most are tasked with adjusting to life away from home and making decisions for themselves, and food — especially what they eat for dinner — is one thing a lot of people initially struggle to control.

ASU’s dining halls offer a variety of different options on a nightly basis. Pizza and cheeseburgers are available every day in addition to a fairly large salad bar, and a specialty meat-based dish with some sort of vegetable is typically available, too. 

"Each semester, the Sun Devil Dining chefs customize their menus utilizing Aramark recipes to best suit the needs of the students," Satiria Clayton, nutrition associate manager with Aramark, said over an email. "Recipes are based on student trends, seasonal ingredients, student feedback and availability of healthy options. Each dining hall offers 10-15 stations that provide students with a variety of options daily."

Some students have a hard time staying healthy, and some even feel driven to eat fast food because they aren’t huge fans of the healthy items available in the dining halls.

It is, however, more than possible to stay healthy on a dining hall diet and not succumb to eating fast food on a consistent basis.

“I eat dining hall food maybe four or five times a day,” said Ted Nania, a personal trainer at the SDFC in Tempe and freshman kinesiology student. “You just have to be really choosy about what you eat. My main tips would be to avoid sugary, overly salty or fatty foods. The salad bar is an especially good place to go for that. They usually have stuff like broccoli, peppers, quinoa and beans. Those are all really healthy foods.”

It is easy to eat whatever unhealthy options the dining hall is serving because they taste better. A cupcake is more desirable than a scoop of green beans for most people.

Discipline is key.

“My nutrition was actually better when I came (to ASU),” Nania said. “I just had more choices and could choose my meals for myself. It definitely takes a lot of self-control to not go for the pizza and the burgers every time and eat a diet that might not taste as good but is much better for you.”

The salad bar is a good place to find a plethora of healthy options, including a nice mix of raw vegetables that can help balance out any diet. Grilled chicken is another protein-rich option that is available almost every night. 

“I feel like it’s easier to stay healthy if you eat simply,” Nania said. “Get stuff from the salad bar or get (cooked) vegetables when they have them. It’s easier to stay healthy if you keep it simpler rather than going for all the fancy foods that may seem more appealing but, in reality, aren’t very healthy.”

A diet consisting of the same few meals may get repetitive and Chick-fil-A, Subway or any other fast food restaurant may sound more appealing, but the students who truly care about nutrition will make dining hall food work for them.

Students have to opportunity to provide feedback on the food on a forum called Your Voice Counts, where their opinions will be taken into consideration for future dining hall options.  

"Sun Devil Dining has a nutrition manager and a nutritionist available daily," Clayton said. "They work with chefs to determine menu ideas and have recently started a program called Fit Friday. Each Friday, all dining halls on the ASU campus highlight a healthy meal for lunch and dinner."

In addition to an improved diet, the effects of good nutrition have been tested on young students, showing a link between good eating and higher performance in the classroom for those who eat well. There is no reason to think that same logic does not apply to college students. 

Healthy food can contribute to more productive brain functionality and can keep students less likely from getting sick and missing classes. Going to class leads to more knowledge and better test and assignment scores. 

“When I see someone come out with pizza, a burger and ice cream, I feel like I should say something,” Nania said. “I know how I used to feel when I would eat like that, and how I feel now, comparatively, is so much better. I can serve someone as an example.”

The benefits of eating healthy are apparent, and the dining hall, although it might not be obvious, is full of healthy alternatives for students to choose. 

As long as they maintain self-discipline and are willing to accept what the dining halls offer, any student can find dietary success and enjoyment from ASU’s food


Reach the columnist at Steven.Slobodzian@asu.edu or follow @PSlobodzianASU on Twitter.

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Editor’s note: The opinions presented in this column are the author’s and do not imply any endorsement from The State Press or its editors. 

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