The responsibility of feeding thousands of college students each day - and to their liking - yet keeping proper nutrition in mind is a challenge, but one that UL Lafayette is willing to take on, given that lifetime eating habits are often formed during college years.
The university has committed to providing even healthier options in its Cypress Lake Dining Hall by partnering with Blue Cross Blue Shield to introduce Ochsner’s Eat Fat Acadiana meals to its breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. While increasingly popular in Lafayette restaurants, it is the first Eat Fit program in a Louisiana university dining hall, according to Yvette Quantz, operations and marketing dietitian for Ochsner’s Eat Fit Acadiana.
Since last November, UL Lafayette students and faculty have had some 30 Eat Fit meals to choose from, including vegetarian jambalaya, grilled fish tacos, baked tilapia, spaghetti squash primavera (a favorite) and, from the chili bar, vegetable chili with three different beans. “I want to be able to give healthier options without taking any of their favorite dishes away,” says Chad Matrana, executive chef of the campus’ dining hall.
Recipes are modified by Matrana in collaboration with Quantz and the dining hall’s registered dietitian. There is also input from students of the dining advisory board who make suggestions that have led to changes like adding two hot vegetarian meals at lunch and dinner.
Another aspect of Eat Fit is to teach students how to make healthier choices by giving them info about the foods they eat. That’s why a calorie count and ingredients are posted for every item, on every menu. Students are also educated on portion eating and a balanced meal of protein and fiber.
Items earning the Eat Fit seal must be no more than 600 calories, have no more than 800 milligrams of sodium, no more than 5 grams of added sugar, or no more than 8 grams of animal-based animal fat.
But that doesn’t mean giving up flavor. With a local perspective in mind, these Eat Fit meals are designed around Cajuns foods indigenous to the area. “Our goal is to make local favorites like jambalaya, smothered chicken and corn maque choux healthier so people can still enjoy the cuisine of this area, but not put themselves at further risk for heart disease or diabetes,” says Matrana.
While the program is still in its earliest stages, Matrana says students’ reactions have been very positive. “Students want options and variety; they’re happy to have hot, healthy meal options.”