Although popular diet trends over the last few years have been swinging towards “healthier” foods, on campus another trend is prevailing: fast and cheap.
“Decent food quick is the biggest trend I’ve seen,” said Chris Kinney, food service director for the Portland campus. “We sell two and a half times as many pre-made sandwiches as made-to-order sandwiches at the deli. When it comes down to it, students would rather just be able to grab something and go.”
It gets worse. For the first time in Kinney’s seven years at the University, muffins have outsold bagels, 200 to 300 weekly. And cookie sales are rivaling bagel sales, nearing 300.
“I see kids come in and grab a Coke and a cookie in the morning,” Kinney said. “Coke sales skyrocket between 7:30 and 9:30 a.m.”
Food from the grill, cold sandwiches, and pizza each claim 25 percent of meal sales, with Pangeos and salads filling in the rest. Chicken is the bird on campus, consistently outselling all other meats and vegetarian choices combined.
“Students eat a lot of chicken,” said Ted Lano, supervising chef at Portland Hall. “A lot of chicken.”
“We’re doing more for vegetarian items than ever before,” said Kinney. “But it seems as though the shift is going back towards meat.”
Food choices on the Gorham campus are based on a cyclic menu guided by national nutritional standards. But ARAMARK, the dining services that caters both campuses, decides what will be offered in the Portland dining hall by a survey handed out each fall. This means that students have the power to control what is offered for on-campus eating. And though the survey last fall showed a demand for fresh foods and vegetarian items, the reality hasn’t matched that.
“If what people actually ate matched what they asked for in the surveys, it would be a dramatic shift here,” Kinney said. “People tend to ask us to provide things they think they should eat, but in the end they’re going to grab the meaty sandwich or the french fries. I often see some kid that came in demanding that we carry more vegetarian choices checking out with a burger.”
Last year students demanded a salad bar, but the salad bar comprises a scant 7 percent of total salad sales. Pre-packaged fruit, chef, and Caesar salads apparently beat the hell out of having to take the time to assemble a salad by hand.
What does this say about college students? Marianne Russo, clinical director of University Health Services in Portland, believes that food choices for college students, logically, come down to two factors: time and money.
“You go pick up something quick. It’s a donut. It’s hard to make good food choices when you’re pressed for time and need something you can eat on the run,” Russo said. “It’s also hard to be a student, working, trying to live above the edge, and be able to afford to eat well.”
Beverage trends, however, have been a bit more positive. This year weekly water sales have begun surpassing soda sales, with each wavering around 700. Fresh Samantha sales fluctuate between 350 and 500 weekly. Yet one beverage continues to outsell all others by a factor of 10. Coffee.
“I can’t really even calculate how many cups of coffee we sell each week,” said Kinney. “It’s thousands.”
Vending machines are always a quick and deliciously unhealthy option for students who don’t want to have to walk all the way to the Campus Center, as is the mini-cafeteria station in Luther Bonney Hall. Mary Rindfleisch, a cashier there, states that she sees a different side of students’ eating habits than in the cafeteria. “Kids here are very much into healthy choices,” she said. “Lots of coffee, but also Odwalla bars and Balance bars. Lots of Fresh Samantha, too. Candy doesn’t sell very fast here.”
Sports bars have been increasingly popular. Cliff Bars, Odwalla Bars, and Balance bars are offered in all of the dining halls, with total sales around 400 bars a week.
“I don’t know if meal replacement bars are all students think they are,” said Russo. “Okay, you’ve missed three meals, have three bars. It’s not a good choice all the time.”
The facts may stand about student’s eating patterns, but things sound a bit different from a student perspective. Some students have complaints about the on-campus dining options.
“I don’t buy the bagels because they suck,” said a senior political science major who prefers to remain anonymous.
“I usually buy the pre-made sandwiches,” said senior business major Kelly Rioux. “But they’re not that good and they cost like three bucks.”
“I don’t have time enough to eat,” said Justin Stygles, senior history major. “So I go for the vending machines. Fifty-five cents, you get beef and cheese sticks. You can’t beat that.”
“The food in Portland is a lot better than in Gorham,” said pro-Dining Services senior communication and computer applications major Kevin Beauregard. “I like the chicken pesto pizza. It’s good.”
Gorham Recreational Sports is giving a free presentation called “Healthy Eating…Make it Your Choice!” this Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in the Woodward Hall lounge. Senior health fitness major Marissa Anderson will talk abut diet tips, self-image, and healthy options for students. Call 780-5042 for more information. Or just call it good and go grab some fries with your fellow students.