With over 34,000 students, North Carolina State University is the largest university in North Carolina. While NC State is known for its research and academic achievements, it also has a campus dining program that is the leader among other universities in helping college students maintain a healthy lifestyle. We talked with NC State Dietitian, Lisa Eberhart RD, LDN, CDE, to get the scoop on healthy eating initiatives at NC State’s campus.
NC State has had a self-operated campus dining program since 1978. Thirty venues on campus offer a full range of meal services, and include dining halls, food courts, cafes, coffee shops, convenience stores, athletic concessions, catering and vending. The dining program is known for having eighteen chefs on staff to help accommodate student allergies and special diets. Eberhart has worked for NC State for over 18 years, and says that the university is constantly improving their approach for encouraging students to live a healthy lifestyle through offering healthy food choices, emphasizing food labeling, and offering healthy activities on campus.
NC State offers various different healthy dining promotions on campus. Fresh Start Monday is an initiative that occurs during the first weeks of the semester. The program is composed of seven health pillars that are introduced to all students; these pillars include physical, intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual, occupational and environmental health.
Taste the Difference is another campaign that emphasizes and highlights everyday food items served in the dining halls. The design of this program allows students to taste different foods though healthy sampling stations.
One Change utilizes social media websites such as Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook to connect with people on campus. This campaign encourages students to start the new year on a healthy note by walking more, hydrating with water, moving more, relaxing, and eating well.
Eat Smart/Cook Smart offers cooking classes for students in the residence halls, and it is run by dietetic interns for peer education purposes. Eberhart says, “I love working with the dietetic interns because they inject creative ideas and energy into our programs.” Keeping programs current and fresh is a major concern for the university’s health professionals; moreover, this keeps students engaged.
Wellness initiatives are not just limited to students at NC State. The university is committed to encouraging a healthy lifestyle among its employees as well. Several employee wellness activities include a weekly one-mile walk around campus hosted by Eberhart herself, a Win Big/Lose Big campus-wide weight loss contest between departments, and one-on-one diabetes education counseling.
These programs are all very strong, but NC State’s healthy menu development is the real hallmark of the health service program at this university. Nutrition criteria for menu planning includes developing vegetarian options, at least one vegan option at all locations on campus, including gluten-free options and gluten-free condiments, allergy-friendly salad dressings, fat free condiments, recipe testing, whole grains, and offering fresh fruit at all times. Healthy substitutions on campus include limited use of salt in favor of herbs and spices, lower fat substitutions for ingredients, lower sodium canned products, varied salad greens, and frying alternatives.
All campus menu items are available on the MyFitnessPal database for students and staff who want to track nutritional information of the foods they eat. Spa style hydration stations have decreased soda and juice consumption on campus by 10%.
The Wolf Approve Paw Print is another initiative that enables healthier choice labeling on campus. Dietitian approved snacks, entrees, and sides get the paw print stamp. Qualifications for the stamp include calorie, fat, trans fat, sugar and other parameters and guidelines. However, Eberhart emphasizes,, “A lot of students just want information and to make the decisions themselves. We are here to help guide students on healthy eating, but ultimately let them decide what is healthy for them.”
NC State’s Wellness initiatives on campus are truly impressive. From food service to promoting physical activity, NC State has it all. The faculty working on these initiatives, and especially Dietitian Lisa Eberhart, are to be commended for their hard work and dedication to the university and the students’ health.