Karen Dougherty sees her job as providing Yalies with a variety of meal options — and then hoping they choose the healthy ones.
“It’s up to [the students] to make the nutritious choices,” Dougherty, the director of communications for Yale University Dining Services, said. “We’re not going to stop serving sugary cereal and gooey desserts.”
For some students, however, free will is not enough. Antonio Ingram ’11 said he thinks YUDS should offer more fruits and vegetables in place of more fattening foods, and the dining halls could do more to keep their offerings — including fruit, breads and salad-bar fare — fresh enough to entice hungry students.
“We don’t need to have dessert three times a day,” Ingram said. “They should put out an additional fruit basket instead of iced cupcakes once in a while.”
Even for the most disciplined, eating healthy in Yale dining halls can be difficult, given the limited selection, unhealthy options and the temptation of second helpings, several students said.
Dougherty acknowledged that the dining halls do regularly offer many unhealthy items. But she said healthy eating is a matter of personal decision-making, and students should take the initiative to seek out the dining halls’ healthier options.
“We don’t offer whole milk. We buy low-fat yogurt. We get the canned fruit that’s ‘no sugar added.’ We don’t salt the water that the pasta’s cooked in,” Dougherty said. “We’ve done so much of that that I’m not sure what there is left.”
Among the din
ing halls’ nutritious offerings are carrots, cauliflower, turnips, radishes, leeks, broccoli and other fresh produce, courtesy of the Yale Sustainable Food Project, she said.
Mary Maloy, a registered dietitian practicing in New Haven, said that when a student is not in control of what is available, it is the student’s responsibility to identify and pick out healthy foods, which can include fresh fruits, vegetables and lean proteins.
“Choosing healthy foods doesn’t mean that things have to be plain,” Maloy said. “But you should be able to recognize the ingredients in a dish — they
shouldn’t be mysterious.”
Maloy said breakfast in particular can often be unhealthy because morning fare is often fried, like potatoes, or high in sugar and calories, like pancakes, muffins and some cereals. Bagels, for instance, can contain between 400 and 700 calories before any toppings have been added, she said, and a glass of fruit juice can contain more sugar than a glass of Coke. Maloy said she suggests eating a light breakfast like whole-grain cereal or eggs, which provide valuable protein.
Several students said they think eating such healthy meals is not difficult, as long as doing so is a priority.
“I don’t think there really needs to be any menu improvement in terms of healthy food,” Amanda Calhoun ’11 said. “It’s good how it is now.”
Christine Saffold ’11 said she thinks the food in Yale’s dining halls is generally nutritious, but there could be more variety in the healthy foods YUDS offers.
Compounding the problem for hungry students is what Maloy calls the dining halls’ “buffet-style” environment — it is easy to reach for an extra serving of french fries even if students do not need them, Maloy said. She said she encourages her patients to establish self-control.
“The bottom line is moderation,” she said. “Put everything you’re going to eat for that meal on your tray the first time, and don’t go back.”
Dougherty agrees. She said she thinks the majority of Yale students are healthy eaters and that healthy eating requires “balance, moderation and variety.”
In a YUDS quality survey conducted in fall 2005, students rated the dining halls’ healthiness at 4.4 on a six-point scale, Dougherty said.