Do you ever wonder if what you’re eating is nutritious? Do you want to know if you’re getting the right balance of food groups? Do you feel lost when you walk through the dining hall, unsure of which options will give you the highest nutritional value? This is something I wonder about all the time.
March is National Nutrition Month, and the UNH Nutrition Expo is coming up. What better time is there to sit down and evaluate your options? I hit the Memorial Union Building (MUB) to find out what students on campus are eating and what they believe is nutritious. With the help of Laila Hammam, nutrition educator/counselor at Health Services, we can take a closer look at these choices and learn about their nutritional value.
Kaman Jorgensen ’19 eats at Philbrook Dining Hall. Jorgensen looks at the online menus that the dining halls provide to see what foods are available. “I like stir-fry and usually get breakfast sandwiches in the morning,” says Jorgensen.
According to Hammam, “Stir-fries can provide a great balance of protein, whole grains and vegetables. Opting for brown rice instead of white adds some extra fiber to the meal. Make it colorful by choosing a variety of vegetables. The more color you can get on your plate, the more nutrients you will get. Breakfast sandwiches can also provide a good balance when having them with some fruit. That will ensure that you are getting a protein, carbohydrate, dairy source — assuming it has cheese in it — and a fruit.”
Courtney Flaherty ’20 also generally eats at Philbrook, and her go-to food choice is chicken and french fries. Flaherty believes that healthy choices are salads, fruits and vegetables.
“Chicken and french fries can be a part of a balanced meal when eaten with other foods,” says Hammam. “Choosing grilled chicken instead of fried is a healthier option, and having a small portion of fries can count as your carbohydrate. Try making half of your plate salad or vegetables; a quarter of your plate fries or a baked potato for a healthier option; and the last quarter of your plate your chicken or any other protein. If you’re not having fruits during meals, they are great to have as a snack in between meals.”
Emily Fontaine ’18 eats at Holloway Commons and is a vegetarian.
“To make sure I’m getting protein, I like to have tofu or beans every day. And I eat a lot of vegetables,” says Fontaine. “I usually go to the vegan station, but often HoCo’s vegan station doesn’t have a lot of options.”
Fontaine believes that healthy choices for students are chick peas and fresh fruits, especially strawberries.
According to Hammam, “Tofu and beans are a great alternative to meat for vegetarians and vegans. All fruits and vegetables are healthy, and the more color you can get on your plate, the more you are getting a variety of nutrients your body needs. Don’t forget to have some whole grains such as quinoa, brown rice or whole wheat pasta with your meal as well.”
Hayden Spritz ’18 lives in the Lodges and frequents the dining halls, but he also goes grocery shopping weekly. “When I’m shopping, I’ll usually go for turkey, beef or steak and meats that will give me options for a week of meals,” says Spritz. “When I’m here (on campus), I get whatever will give me the biggest bang for my buck, usually stir-fry or burritos.”
Spritz believes that in order to eat nutritiously, “It doesn’t really matter what food you eat, it’s the portion size. Just make sure you’re not eating too much or too little.”
Hammam agrees: “Portion size is definitely important. Everything can fit into your diet but you should also make sure that there is something from each food group at each meal. Turkey is a good choice of lean protein, and if you are having beef or steak, try and make sure there is little visible fat on it. This fat is saturated fat and is the type of fat that can clog your arteries if eaten in large quantities. Cutting any visible fat off meats before cooking helps reduce the amount of saturated fat in the meat. Stir-fries and burritos are great options that usually include most of the food groups in one meal.”
Gabe Paster ’20 eats at Holloway Commons and tries to get “a spoonful of vegetables, a banana or apple and something pasta-related” on each plate he eats. He believes that an overall balance and not too much of one thing or the other is nutritious.
“Balance is definitely key to a healthy diet,” Hammam adds. “It is important to get a variety of foods from all food groups. Having vegetables, fruit and pasta are great, but protein is also important to include, as is dairy. Each meal, especially lunch and dinner should include a carbohydrate, protein, fruit and/or vegetable and dairy. Using the plate method ensures you’re getting a good balance and not too much of one food group over the other. Try adding more than a spoonful of vegetables to your plate — aim for half your plate. A quarter of your plate should be some sort of lean protein (beans, tofu, chicken or fish), and the last quarter should be a whole grain. You can use the Healthy UNH plate in the dining halls to help remind you.”
As for me, I tend to eat a lot of microwave popcorn as a snack. I was curious to hear about that choice.
I was relieved to hear from Hammam that “Popcorn is a great snack! It’s a whole grain food and a good source of fiber. Just pay attention to the kind of microwave popcorn you are buying. Some of them can be very high in fat and sodium. Try popping your own kernels in a pot with some olive oil, and add salt to taste once popped.”
For me this advice was great because I do not need to give up my favorite snack! Instead, I was able to find a more healthy version.
Three Steps to Better Nutrition
- Make an appointment with Laila Hammam, nutrition educator/counselor at UNH Health Services. This service is covered by the Health Fee.
- Sign up for What’s Cooking? classes offered by Nourish UNH, a UNH Health Services Peer Education Group, on Wednesdays from 5 – 7 p.m. in the demonstration kitchen at the Hamel Rec Center. The classes have been a huge hit so far. Advance registration is required.
- Attend the UNH Nutrition Expo on March 30 from 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at the Hamel Rec Center. Sample some free food and get some great information.