Hey, college students: Don’t pack on the pounds at D.C. dining halls

There’s something amiss in how much we value health in our day-to-day eating, and it centers around what is happening in the nation’s dining halls, especially when it comes to lunch and dinner. Yes, students and faculty are on a mission to elevate themselves and their new city with new culture and experiences. But with all that is happening in the city these days, Washington needs to strike a balance between cultivating character and generating national attention with that spirit. In part, that means eating healthier (and having a healthier student body).

Why is it that American college students, and the vast majority of that student body, are either eating significantly less than their classmates do at home or are eating completely unhealthy foods to fill a void? Yes, here in D.C., there are plenty of restaurants for students to choose from — but are the habits of our students really what we want in restaurants today?

So often the nutritional status of restaurants are considered a kind of currency in the Washington food scene, and while I agree that eating the good stuff matters, sometimes eating in a restaurant where the price point is noticeably different is important as well. Are students going to see the importance of paying a fair price when there’s a clearer opportunity to see the money go further by paying less? Is there really that much difference between the quality of your breakfast at a local cafe versus a chain restaurant? (I can tell you, from what I’ve observed, the quality of breakfast items from local eateries are significantly better than what they are from chain restaurants.) Also, is it really so surprising that students are inclined to choose an option where the food is inexpensive for the sake of convenience over a meal that is a true reflection of their taste or where they really want to be with their peers?

One recent survey found that over a third of students said they would consider skipping a meal if dining hall meals are excluded from their breakfasts. I don’t need to tell you that students want to have healthy options, including those that are part of a meal plan, but if they’re presented with the wrong choices, they’re going to be reluctant to make a choice that is healthier, right? So are students being persuaded to buy things that are significantly overpriced, even when those things are part of a meal plan? What if the ingredients on an item are free?

That being said, when it comes to socializing — a time when people can exchange ideas and enhance their collective experiences — restaurants have an obligation to establish connections and experiences in our local community. If we’re going to have our lunch programs focused on sustainability, at least you and I should be able to get together and see how to save trees.

I think our colleges and universities need to keep an eye on how they develop a meaning and purpose in the broader D.C. community that will resonate with our students as we continue to create and build communities at school and in the community.

Leave a Comment