Students choose less healthy options for convenience, prices
Students often say it is impossible to eat healthily on campus. The real question doesn’t concern availability of healthy food, however, but rather the popularity of it. “Nutrition is a choice for everyone,” said Carolina Dining Operations Director Michael Gwiazdowski. “We offer many choices. The majority of the meals I get are from Chick-fil-A, but I get a grilled chicken salad. I don’t get a carbonated beverage — I drink water. That’s my choice.”
Gwiazdowski analyzed the number of meals sold at Russell House during the week of Nov. 15 to 19 and found that many students are choosing fast food options.
On an average day during this week, students consumed approximately 11,250 meals. Of those meals, 5,650 were purchased from one of the fast food retailers in the upstairs portion of Russell House, including Chick-fil-A, Burger King, Santorini’s, Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and Einstein Bros. Bagels.
In addition to the 5,650 meals that were purchased from fast food locations, another 2,200 were purchased from Pandini’s, Horseshoe Deli and Freshens. Only 3,400 meals — roughly 30 percent of the meals sold — came from the Grand Market Place.
But healthy choices are available. Garden Toss and PLAN-iT Healthy stations in the Grand Market Place sell more nutritional items, and PLAN-iT Healthy items are also gluten-free. Additionally, even the fast food venues such as Chick-fil-A and Burger King offer grilled chicken salads or wraps and veggie burgers, respectively, which are healthier alternatives to fried chicken, burgers and french fries.
The question is, why aren’t these healthy options popular?
“You have to search for [healthy] things,” said Clay Taylor, a third-year sport and entertainment management student. “The veggie burger at Burger King is good; you just have to know about it.”
At Pandini’s, which offers various salads as a healthier alternatives to pizza and pasta, only 19 percent of meals sold were salads, compared to 47 percent pizza. Likewise sales at the Grand Market Place increase dramatically, compared to the rest of the week, on Chicken Finger Wednesday, when Carolina Dining is selling — by far — its most unhealthy meal of the week.
Fried options are usually quick and convenient to eat when in a hurry, and most frequently fit under the meal plan.
“People think, ‘I’m in a hurry; I can eat this while walking,’ and purchase certain meals — for example a fried chicken sandwich,” Gwiazdowski said. “You can just as easily get something like a wrap, which is healthier, to eat as you’re walking.”
Crystal Welch, a first-year nursing student, said she often eats at the fast food locations in Russell House because it is convenient and fits on the meal plan.
“If you get a meal you have to pay extra to get healthy stuff like fruit,” Welch said. “And I feel like I can’t just have salad for dinner.”
The cost of a meal at PLAN-iT Healthy rarely fit under the meal plan, whereas almost all Taco Bell, Chick-fil-A and Burger King value meals do.
Taylor said that the price is an issue when finding healthy foods. He said he likes PLAN-iT Healthy but that it is expensive because items are priced individually.
Other popular meal choices, however, indicate that price is not always the most factor for students. Einstein Bros. is a popular location and can go over the meal plan. Gwiazdowski also said that Starbucks is expensive and very popular. Healthy meal options are available at all dining location on campus, though they are often a less obvious choice. In the end, it all comes down to what the student wants to eat.
“It does seem like they’re trying to accommodate people,” Taylor said. “It’s not impossible to be a vegetarian on campus.”
Carolina Dining offers various methods for students who want to voice their opinions on what dining options they want to see on campus. The newest and most direct of those options is the Student Board of Directors, which meets with Carolina Dining officials once a month to give feedback on the dining options and what the students want.
Additionally, posters with nutritional information are outside of the various fast food locations, and all hot-line items’ nutritional information is available online at www.sc.edu/dining