Nutritional information in a college setting can be an important aspect to have, yet one may find it hard to come by on many college campuses.
Many college students are choosing a healthier lifestyle; a vegan or vegetarian diet is one of the ways they are doing so. Northern Michigan University’s VegNMU is a student group for vegetarians and vegans. The group has been pushing NMU Dining Services for nutritional labeling and ingredient information in on-campus dining areas.
“The biggest problem for me was not knowing if a dish in the vegetarian section was vegan or not,” said VegNMU member Erin McCulloch. “On the surface you can’t always tell if the recipe included something like milk or cheese.”
McCulloch, a history major and sophomore at NMU, said that labeling in on-campus cafeterias such as the Wildcat Den and Marketplace would benefit all students not just those who are vegans and vegetarians.
“Having nutritional labeling would help vegetarian and especially vegan students who are careful about what ingredients they choose not to eat,” McCulloch said. “Nutritional labeling might also encourage students to make healthier choices. If students knew exactly what was going into their meal they might think twice before going back for seconds.”
Northern Michigan’s Dining Services is currently working on a plan to take care of the lack of nutritional information. The idea is to increase the amount of nutrition labels and nutritional information, including allergens and ingredients, in on-campus dining areas.
Robin Rahoi, NMU’s registered dietician, is working with NMU Dining Services to help create a healthier and nutrition based environment. The hope is to bring in more nutrition information to areas such as the Marketplace and Wildcat Den. However, the initiative has taken longer than planned.
“I think that has always been our goal, but the goal is just taking a really long time,” said Rahoi. “I think that dining services realized [students] want it. I always encourage people, students especially, to let dining services know.”
The current plan for NMU is to set up available binders at food stations containing the nutrition facts and ingredients of foods at the designated area.
“I think right now we are going to do binders,” said Rahoi. “[We would like] several binders within the facilities so that a student can take it back to a table to look at it and then they know where it is available if they want to look up that information.”
Starting a food labeling program in an area such as the Wildcat Den or Marketplace is a big project, according to Rahoi. However, some menu items such as cereals, beverages, breads and salad dressings have already received labels.
“When we talk about food labels it’s a pretty big project,” Rahoi said. “We’ve started to do some labeling with things that come with a food label. Any of the foods that are coming pre-prepared, we can get that information out.”
Colleges such as Grand Valley State and nearby St. Norbert College offer students an online menu with nutrition information available on all menu items. St. Norbert lists over 700 different menu items for their dining area, which categorizes by specific groups such as breakfast foods or vegetarian choices. The college has been providing nutrition information for students for the past 18 years, said Matthew Doyle the associate director of dining services at St. Norbert.
“We started with nutrition cards by the menu items and continue to do so,” Doyle said. “Our online information has been available for the past four years.”
The program is working with good feedback and, according to Doyle, students are using the online site to check nutritional information on the menu often.
“I routinely look at [Web] traffic reports and see that our nutrition information is accessed over 50 percent of the time for our total Web site hits,” he said.
Having a program like St. Norbert’s in which menu item nutritional information can be checked online may take a while before completion at Northern according to Rahoi.
“I think in the big scheme of things that would be ideal as well,” she said. “What would have to happen is the recipes would have to be online and the [they] would have to be followed right. I think that that project is a ways off.”
Last year a letter was sent to NMU dining services from VegNMU concerning nutritional labeling and ingredient information.
“They responded quite well to our letter and definitely made an effort to address our problems,” McCulloch said. “But after a while it seemed to fall to the wayside.”
Regardless of when the plan is to be completed, Rahoi feels students will pay attention to the labeling and make better food choices down the line.
“I think that we have enough students out there who are asking for it,” Rahoi said. “I think that even if [students] didn’t utilize it, it is important to still have.”