Eating healthy at the dining centers



Opinion columnist Cristian Ortiz says it’s possible to be healthy while eating at UNI’s dining centers by focusing on moderation.

CRISTIAN ORTIZ, Opinion Columnist

Freshmen, I’m sure you’ve heard of the “Freshmen 15.” Upperclassmen, you may have actually experienced it, or may even still be experiencing it. Let me tell you: I’m definitely still experiencing the effects of the “Freshmen 15.”

With the dining centers basically being buffets at every hour that they’re open, it can be really difficult to keep the dreaded “Freshmen 15” away. But do not fear, hope is always near!

Being a senior at UNI, I have three solid years of experience eating at the dining centers. More specifically — the Piazza. I have not only eaten my meals at the Piazza; I’ve also spent three years working as a student employee there. So, I also know quite a bit about how the food is prepared behind the scenes.

First off, let me get this straight. I’m not writing this piece to bash on the dining centers. They are amazing for college students and can come in clutch when you have a hangover or the late-night munchies (not saying that I’ve had either). But always be careful because too much of anything is too much.

This brings me to my main tip: Moderation is key!

I’ve been there. I’ve waited in line for that popcorn chicken to come fresh out the pool of grease it was fried in at Sizzles and couldn’t wait to dip it in a bucket full of ranch. I’ve piled plates full of pizza because I thought it would do no harm. I was wrong.

Here’s the thing…I’ve worked at both Sizzles and Serrano’s at Piazza. The food isn’t particularly “well-balanced.” Everything is basically soaked or cooked in grease. At Sizzles, you can expect almost everything on the line to have been in a fryer or have a very high fat content.

The pizza at Serrano’s is made with dough that has been slathered with cooking oil and has sat overnight to rise. Then, when it’s time to make the pizza, the workers slather more cooking oil on the pan (and a lot of it), so that the dough won’t stick to it while it’s baking.

When prepping the actual toppings, they are thrown onto the dough. There’s not really any measuring. And then, guess what? There is more cooking oil put on the crust so it’ll be nice and crispy.

But there’s always a silver lining. Sizzles has the “Special Orders” line. This is where you can find healthier options. The one I recommend the most is chicken breast. When the chicken breast is prepared, there is minimal extra fat added to cook it. It is just grilled and spiced, and it’s ready to go.

The good thing about chicken breast is that it’s high in protein, and it can be quite filling. It can be prepared or mixed with a lot of different food so that the taste won’t become unbearable after a while.

Once I started to realize the dangers of the unhealthier options at the dining centers, I started heading towards the salads and sandwiches more often.

Like momma always said, “Eat your green vegetables.” Bushels at the Piazza is the salad place. They have fruit, special salads made daily and an array of options so you can personally design and create your own fiber-filled masterpiece.

You can also get specially-made sandwiches from Stackables at the Piazza. What’s even better is that if the sandwiches start to get old, you can get a wheat wrap tortilla from there, go to Sizzles, ask for some chicken, then go to Serrano’s and put some rice and lettuce on it. Viola! You’ve got a knock-off Pancheros burrito!

Here’s another important tip: always drink water. I like to drink a glass of water or two before I eat my meal because water can help you feel fuller faster.

The soda, and even the juices, in the dispensers at the dining centers are filled with high amounts of sugar. The average serving size is a cup, which is 8 oz. The cups at the dining centers are over 8 oz., and I know that when I drink there, I don’t usually stop at one cup.

I’ve learned a neat little trick. If you want fruit punch or lemonade, fill some of the cup (from a quarter to half of it) with water then pour your preferred drink. It’s a great way to get the drink you want without adding all of the carbs from sugars to it!

Remember: It’s okay to have what you want from the dining centers and stay away from the “Freshmen 15.” As long as you focus on moderation and remember to also throw in some physical activity into the mix, you’ll have nothing to worry about. 

And once in a while, especially after a hard day’s work, it’s okay to treat yourself. After all, you deserve that cookie.