A study conducted by Oregon State University in 2011 found that most college students fail to consume the amount of fruits and vegetables recommended by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Baylor nutrition sciences program coordinator Janelle Walter said that a balanced diet is integral to students’ performance in the classroom.
“Proper nutrition fuels your brain. If your brain’s not working, you can’t learn very well,” Walter said.
Walter said eating balanced meals may be difficult as students adjust to university life. At home, many students had ready access to fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and whole grains—all five food groups. At school, students have to choose from among the options in a dining hall or prepare their own meals. Eating well, for many, may become more difficult when students have to make their own choices, Walter said.
She also acknowledged that the dining hall provides access to all the food groups — but it is the student’s responsibility to avoid the temptations presented by the bounty at Penland or East Village Dining Halls.
Baylor’s Department of Wellness is in place to prepare students to make these healthy choices. The department’s programs educate and inform students on the requirements of a healthy diet and physical wellbeing.
One of the department’s programs brings peer leaders to residence halls across campus to educate freshmen on developing good eating and exercise habits. These peer leaders give new students the tools to find good meals in the dining halls and healthy habits in their daily routines.
“There are a lot of incoming freshmen who weren’t the primary ones making the meals,” said Fort Worth senior Katie Hornell, who is a health and wellness peer leader. “I just know it’s difficult, especially if you live in the dorms, to find nutritious meals in the dining hall. They say it’s getting easier, but it’s still difficult.”
Each peer leader is assigned to a Community Leader in a Baylor residence hall. Every month Hornell and the other peer leaders plans an initiative to educate students on healthy eating and exercise habits. In September Hornell coordinated a trip to the Waco Downtown Farmers Market to show students fresh local options for a balanced diet.
Walter said that it may not only be new students who need to develop healthy eating habits, however. Moving off campus can present its own set of challenges.
“Quite frankly, the ones who eat in-dorm food service usually eat better than the ones who are off-campus,” Walter said.
Walter said that in dining halls students at least have the option to eat all five food groups at every meal. In addition, the Waco transit system operates a bus that runs twice every hour from campus to the H-E-B Plus on Valley Mills. Walter said that no matter where students are eating, they must remember to choose healthy options.
“The best thing to do when you choose meals is to choose meals from the basic food groups, the ones you learned back in elementary school,” Walter said.
Walter also said that carbohydrates, which provide nutrition to the brain, are particularly important for college students.
However, the most important thing is to make balanced and rational choices during and between meals.
“We have to use reason in choosing what to eat and how much,” Walter said.