Interactive: What’s on your plate at the dining hall?

Jun. 16, 2011 12:53 am

Jasmine Horne trusts her intuition when it comes to choosing healthy meals on campus.

Like many undergraduate students, Horne, a rising sophomore, relied on a meal plan during her first year at UNC. She credits her upbringing and prior knowledge about sound nutrition for helping her to make solid choices at mealtime.

“Most of my friends weren’t raised on eating vegetables,” she said. “Some of my friends gained a lot of weight.”

As a member of the Army ROTC, Horne is required to keep her weight within a certain range. That means keeping a close eye on what she chooses to eat — especially when cheeseburgers, fries and various desserts populate the menu each day.

The one thing she’s never relied on, Horne said, is the federal government’s food pyramid. In early June, First Lady Michelle Obama helped roll out, an updated tool designed to help Americans understand how much they should eat from the four food groups. But Horne said she doesn’t plan to depend on that advice, either.

“I mostly rely on my own knowledge,” she said.

A reesenews review of the Rams Head dining hall menu suggests that while it’s possible to make healthy choices on a meal plan, it’s also easy for students to fill up on grains. The new MyPlate guidelines suggest that Americans limit their consumption of processed grains, such as white bread, and eat plenty of fruits and vegetables.

Meanwhile, the review showed that many Rams Head offerings contain large amounts of sodium. A garden burger at the dining hall contains 1,200 milligrams of sodium, according to nutritional information from dining services. Eggplant parmesan has 1,777 milligrams, and that southern breakfast staple – a biscuit – contains 674 milligrams of sodium. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which developed MyPlate, recommends restricting sodium to 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams each day.

Reesenews asked Tyrone Hall and Leah Moutz, second-year master’s students in UNC’s Gillings School of Public Health, to take a look at the Rams Head menu. The two also work with Child Nutrition Services for Durham Public Schools.

Hall and Moutz offered the following advice via email:

“The thing to remember when selecting foods at Rams Head is to load up on fruits and vegetables, which are in general very low in sodium,” they wrote. “With main dishes, try to limit combinations of meat with cheese (go with one or the other) and limit fried foods and high sodium baked goods (like biscuits). If going with a high-sodium choice, try to go with a smaller portion.”

How does a typical lunch at Rams Head compare to the MyPlate model? Explore the interactive graphic above to learn about the nutritional value of items being served this week.