Eating between the lines

Navigating dietary restrictions on a college campus

When it comes to eating on a college campus, a diet restriction can sometimes feel like a death sentence. With fast food restaurants located all around campus and entire sections of the dining hall dedicated to dessert, it might seem as if students who live with dietary restrictions are forced to carry the burden alone.  

Arizona State University is attempting to bridge that gap with dedicated gluten free and dietary restriction-conscious menus.  

“Nowadays, luckily, campuses have started to address groups with dietary restrictions or patterns that weren't taken into consideration before, and there are plenty of good and healthy options," Victoria Alanis, vice president of the Student Nutrition Council and sophomore nutrition dietetics major says. "There's no reason to not enjoy our dietary patterns and it's always important to achieve an overall state of wellness."

Students like lifestyle vlogger Kaylin Harding, a sophomore communications major, understand the struggles of eating healthy in college. Harding decided to document these struggles in a vlog series. 

She chronicled her fitness and nutrition journey on her YouTube channel and says she used it as a tool to keep accountable.  

“I think it’s totally possible to have a healthy diet even when eating from the dining hall,” Harding says. “They offer things like salads and veggies and chicken breasts. ASU actually makes it pretty easy to maintain a healthy lifestyle.”  

Harding was inspired by the many healthy choices available to all students within the dining hall and started using her daily lifestyle vlogs to focus on both her personal fitness and eating greener in the dining hall.  

“At the time, that was what was working the best for me, accountability wise,” Harding says. “And people were just so supportive of me.”  

Not only was Harding supported by students, the University supported her choices to live a greener lifestyle with its many healthy options.  

ASU offers gluten-free foods to students, such as pizza crust upon request and gluten-free bread. The school also maintains sections of vegan foods for students in need, with a rotating menu that includes Mediterranean stir fry, tofu potato hash, Moroccan vegetable stew and vegan Belgian waffles, depending on the day and dining hall location. 

Still, some argue the dining hall could do a better job of promoting healthy options. For students like Martha Ryan, a freshman microbiology major, the University could be doing more to expand and market dining choices.  

“Based on what I’ve seen, it’s actually quite difficult to eat healthy at ASU,” Ryan says. “They do have the salad bar, but you hit a point where you have the same salad five days in a row and ask yourself what you are going to do now.”  

Freshman medical studies major and vegetarian Bailey Bauer wants the ASU community to understand having to implement dietary restrictions aren't always the choice of the individual.  

"I'm only a vegetarian because I'm allergic to meat," Bauer says. "It's not by choice at all. I'm really restricted almost every day. ... I think they should provide just as many options for those who have dietary restrictions than for those that don't, just to make it even." 

In an attempt to help students find nutritional success, the University has an on-campus nutritionist team, employed by Aramark, to showcase healthy options. Students can seek help with any questions or concerns about dining hall foods they might have, as well as get advice on how to navigate college with a food allergy.  

The ASU dining hall director was contacted and referred the reporter to the on-campus nutrition team.  

"Students can maintain a gluten friendly and dairy-free diet on campus by utilizing nutrition labels and signage that is posted at each dining hall," a member of the nutritionist team Satiria Clayton writes in an email. "Nutrition labels include ingredients of the prepared entree and the signage includes a list of food items at each station that are 'Made without Gluten.' Students are able to view the ingredient list and decide if an item is free from dairy or gluten. An onsite nutrition team is available for further questions or concerns.The nutrition team can be reached at:" 

ASU also offers nutrition self-evaluations for those in need. The mobile app, My Fitness Pal, is also accessible to students looking to find nutritional information on all of the foods offered in the dining hall, simply by searching "Aramark on campus" within the app.  

From a student perspective, Alanis recommends that students struggling with their diet restrictions vary the types of foods in their daily diets, which can be done with the help of the on campus nutritionist.  

“I advise students to not fall into the same routine of their dietary patterns because that can ultimately become tedious." Alanis says. "It's always good to be open to new and varied foods that we've never tried before, but that still fall into the acceptable range of our acceptable eating patterns.” 

Correction: The print version of this story incorrectly spelled "vegetarian" and Satiria Clayton's last name. This version has been updated to reflect those changes.

Reach the reporter at or follow @madisonmstaten on Twitter.

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