Dining Hall Nutrition Facts?

Many school and corporate cafeterias have begun to offer nutritional information to customers.  According to proponents, sharing nutritional information aids in making informed choices and creates greater awareness of the importance of a balanced diet, while also encouraging a more health-conscious outlook and helping to establish lifelong healthy habits.  Should Thacher’s dining hall follow suit and provide nutritional information to students and faculty?

In a survey of 159 Thacher students, 79% of respondents stated that they thought the dining hall should make nutritional information available, while 77% said they would make at least occasional use of the information. One respondent wrote that “it would be great to include some form of nutritional information to be better informed on what we consume.”

Of course, not everyone is in favor of availability.  Several respondents mentioned concerns about the increased workload this information would represent for the dining hall. Providing nutritional information would require semi-standard serving sizes and a significant amount of time expended daily.  Additionally, since many chefs cook by “feel” and not by strict recipe, any information provided would only be an estimate.

The logistics of providing this information to the school could also prove difficult.  One option would be to label different menu items with red, yellow, or green “traffic light” indicators depending on the nutritional breakdown of the item in question.  The most practical option would be to publish complete nutritional facts online and in the daily menu email and to only provide caloric information in the physical dining hall.  

But, as several survey respondents pointed out, this focus on calories could prove detrimental for those who suffer from eating disorders.  One respondent wrote: “I don’t think that Thacher should include calories because it could lead to an unhealthy calorie counting culture, especially among girls.”  Another praised the body-positive culture that is already in place at Thacher and expressed concern over how this could change with a focus on caloric information, writing that, “Thacher is a place where people have the chance to really embrace their bodies and feel healthy in their own skins. There’s plenty of other things to worry about, and though nutritional information is valuable when used positively, it also holds the potential to pull people’s self-esteem down.”

Students on either side of the issue mentioned a desire for more education and information regarding nutrition.  One respondent wrote: “I’m not even really sure what a “balanced diet” is and what is good and not good for us.”  Thacher currently does not offer general wellness and nutrition education, although an off-campus nutritionist is available if a student requests assistance.  As we enter a new year, Thacher should consider what measures it can take to strengthen health and nutrition education to better support students.  In the meantime, perhaps the dining hall could offer nutritional information for several weeks to better gain a sense of its impact on students.

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