Many years ago, when my kids were much younger, I would occasionally write in this column about things that they or their friends had said or done. I remember one time when I was writing about a birthday party menu that my daughter and I were planning, and I had suggested that she include carrot sticks on the menu. She sighed and said, "You mean we even have to eat vegetables on our birthday?" Kids sometimes do say the darnedest things, and I had one of those experiences last week that I just have to share!
My kids are both in college now, and if you are the parent of a college-age student, you have probably received the annual fundraising calls that most colleges conduct every year. I've received enough of these calls through the years to know that the caller is usually a student and his or her goal is to get you to chit-chat a little at first before they dive into the real reason for their call. I recently had one of these annual calls, and this time, the student was exceptionally good at engaging me in conversation. In the course of the conversation, he asked me what my job was. I told him that I was a dietitian, and he was familiar with that career as his brother had Type 1 diabetes and had met with a dietitian and she had helped him and their family learn how to manage the diet for diabetes.
The conversation then turned to the eating habits of college students - most notably of college-age boys, and that was pretty interesting. I found out that his favorite midnight snack was co-jack cheese wrapped in pepperoni and dipped in barbecue sauce. I can't say that I've ever tried that before, and I'm sure that there are many other snack variations that could outdo that one on college campuses across the country.
Certainly the themes of lack of money, lack of time to grocery shop and cook, lack of the equipment and utensils that you need to cook, lack of space to store perishable food as well as other factors contribute to college students not eating as well as even they know that they should. I think many of these factors have the same influence on other non-college people too. What are the reasons that keep you from eating well?
Time, money, cooking ability, lack of desire, special diet needs, etc. can all be reasons that are given to suggest why we can't eat better. However, there are tactics that everyone can use to improve their diets with a little self-awareness and planning. The 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans emphasize three major goals that we can strive to achieve to improve our overall nutritional well-being. They are:
Balance calories with physical activity to manage weight
Consume more of certain foods and nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fat-free and low-fat dairy products and seafood
Consume fewer foods with sodium (salt), saturated fats, trans fats, cholesterol, added sugars and refined grains
Perhaps the college fund-raiser will think about my suggestions on how to make improvements to his midnight snack. He did tell me he was going to try. And that's a step in the right direction. We can all look for and take action on some things that would be small steps in the right direction too. And maybe the college fundraiser put a note by my name, so that the next time a student calls me, he or she will be prepared to talk about their midnight eating habits before they launch into their fundraising spiel! Or maybe they won't call again. Time will tell.
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.