December 9, 2022 | OPINION | By Karly Hamilton

Before I started college, countless people warned me about the “Freshman 15” and making sure I made good lifestyle choices while adjusting to college. What they failed to mention, however, is how hard it can be to make good choices in the dining hall.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the food at CC is decent relative to that of other colleges — the keyword here being relative. Especially as someone who enjoys cooking, walking into the dining hall for a meal is often quite disappointing.

Add to that a childhood pickiness I’m still growing out of, and it’s hard to ensure a balanced diet while at school. I love brussels sprouts; when they get nice and crispy and are drizzled with balsamic vinegar, they are easily my favorite vegetable. But when I see them at Rastall, the appeal is no longer there.

Countless colleges and universities publish guidelines for eating healthy at school and the numerous benefits that a balanced diet provides. Just do a Google search, and there will be no shortage of institutions sharing their take on the situation. While the Freshman 15 is not always an accurate gauge, it has been shown that college freshmen are likely to gain a greater amount of weight than the general population.

Many articles associate the weight gain with forming new habits, specifically pertaining to food choices and exercise. Moving to college is representative of a greater life change for students who are moving away from home for the first time. For those who do not partake in organized sports on campus, going to the gym and developing an exercise regimen can take time. Cooking is likely not an option for first-year students on a meal plan, and dining hall staples often include foods such as pizza or chicken tenders—which are not the best for one’s health.

Further, students might find themselves eating in emotional times, specifically when they are stressed. Lastly, college is often a time where alcohol intake drastically increases, which can lead to gaining weight.

Any one of these factors can make people more likely to gain weight. But the combination of all of them?  

I’m not shocked college students are tempted by pizza and ice cream sundae bars, especially when under the influence. However, I’m quite surprised that people can sustain these habits.

I’m not perfect. I certainly eat my fair share of chicken tenders—and grilled cheese with bacon from Benji’s. I’m not as active as I should be and there are many nights when my plate is lacking veggies. But it’s not because I’m tempted by the ice cream bar or rebelling against the healthy foods my parents made me eat when I was younger. It’s because I’m scared to consume anything remotely healthy from the dining hall.

I enjoy fresh fruit but not from a communal bowl. Apples and bananas are great because I can wash and peel them, but I have no idea how well the raspberries have been cleaned—or if a hungover student got a little overexcited and put their bare hand in the bowl during Sunday brunch. My beloved brussels sprouts are either incredibly over or undercooked; there is no in between. And while the salad bar is nice in theory, the greens do not always look ready for consumption.

I do my best, as I know many others do. But I know I’m not able to give my body the nutrients it needs many days. Trying new foods can be difficult, and if you’re like me, it’s something you’re more likely to do in the comfort of your own home than the school dining facility. So instead, we fall back on safe foods, which often are not the best choices for our bodies. I keep trying to do better, but honestly, I’m not sure my diet will improve much until “the dining hall” is no longer a frequently used phrase in my vocabulary.

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