Towson University promotes healthy dining on campus

(Photo by Allison Bazzle/ TU student) Newell dining hall before the lunch rush.

(Photo by Allison Bazzle/ TU student) Newell dining hall before the lunch rush.

When Sophomore Tyler Persing was recently accepted into Towson University for the Spring 2015 semester, his diet began to suffer.

“Suddenly I was exposed to a variety of my favorite foods all in one place, for one price,” said Persing.

Before his acceptance, Persing had mainly been eating at home in Bel Air, Maryland. Here, his family created balanced meals like salmon with steamed broccoli, or baked chicken and zucchini.

But when Persing’s job, schooling and time moved an hour away to the Towson area, he found it increasingly difficult to eat healthy.

“ I gained almost seven pounds during my first month at Towson,” said Persing. “I ate a lot of my meals at Newell dining hall where I could eat as much pizza and fries as I wanted.”

With such a variety and surplus of unhealthy dining options on college campuses, schools like Towson University are finding new ways to incorporate a balanced diet into the lives of their students.

Kerry Ballek, Towson’s dietician of six years, is trying to spread the word and promote National Nutrition month. During the entire month of March Towson dining services will hold a number of health promoting food events. There will even be games and prizes.

“Each year we try to promote a National Nutrition month,” said Ballek. “Right now I put out a nutrition scavenger hunt on the Towson dining website for students to do.”

On the Towson dining website students can find ten questions that will require them to visit various dining halls in order to complete the scavenger hunt. Students can then email their answers to Ballek and win prizes. Such prizes include heart rate monitors, dining points and a healthy snack basket.

Select dining halls on campus will incorporate a variety of whole grain options into daily meals. There will also be a fruit and green smoothie bar event, along with a healthy dessert night.

Even when special promotions like National Nutrition month aren’t in full swing, students can still find healthy meal options in the on-campus dining halls.

“We have stuff everywhere,” said Ballek. “There are always fresh fruits and vegetables no matter where you go.”

Retail locations on-campus like Outtakes offers to-go containers filled with crudité, which is a fancy French word for cut up vegetables. Other retail and a la carte options on campus include: Au Bon Pain, Einstein’s bagels, Jamba juice, Susquehanna and Patuxent. According to Ballek, Patuxent has a fit foods bar, which has whole grain salads. Susquehanna offers fresh sushi with an option to substitute brown rice for white rice.

Towson Sophomore Jami Preston prefers Au Bon Pain, which is a café style eatery that serves soups, salads and sandwiches. “I am addicted to their chicken caeser asiago salads,” said Preston. “ I admit, I do ask for a lot of extra croutons which doesn’t make the salad super healthy.”

When looking for the healthiest options, Ballek advises to stick with the dining halls.

“The dining halls have the most variety of things,” Ballek said. “They offer more whole grains and steamed vegetables. There’s also always a salad bar, which is healthy as long as you are picking fat-free or low fat dressings.”

Towson’s three all you can eat dining halls, which are The Glen, Newell, and West Village, offer some unique alternative options from one another. According to Ballek, The Glen has a vegan station. In West Village students can get made to order stir-fry. At Newell dining, students can order pasta that can be mixed with chicken, shrimp and vegetables. All dining halls contain an omelet station, which Ballek says is a perfectly fine option as long as you’re not loading up on cheese and bacon.

To help guide students to these healthy choices, Towson installed nutrition kiosks in each of the three main dining halls last year. All of the menus can be found on the kiosks or online, according to Ballek.

“The kiosks have the calorie, nutrition, protein and fat facts,” Ballek said. Retail menus for Einstein’s, Jamba Juice, and Au Bon Pain are not on the kiosks, but can be found online on each companies corporate website.

The road to staying healthy in college doesn’t solely involve eating right but also staying fit. Most college campuses have a gym on site that is free for students. Towson has Burdick gym, which offers everything from weights to various cardio machines.

Some Towson students also belong to other gyms in the area like the Y of Central Maryland, just three minutes from campus. Others belong to Anytime Fitness on York road, or take yoga classes at facilities in the area.

Fitness coordinator at the Towson Y of Central Maryland Michelle Gipson, urges college students to start a fitness regimen at their own pace.

“Start gradually with three to five days of cardio for 30 minutes a day,” said Gipson. “Break it up if you need to! You can also attempt two to three days of strength training. This may vary on your fitness goal.”

After hearing about healthy food options and fitness possibilities around campus, Persing is ready to change his eating habits.

“I really let the stress of a new college and heavy coarse load get the best of me,” said Persing. “I’m ready to cut out the pizza and add more fresh vegetables to my diet.”

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