The changing dining habits of college students
For the seventh straight year, October is Dining Month on OnMilwaukee.com, presented by the restaurants of Potawatomi. All month, we're stuffed with restaurant reviews, delectable features, chef profiles and unique articles on everything food, as well as the winners of our "Best of Dining 2013."
When I was a freshman in college – back in 1992 – I always wondered what the "freshman 15" was all about. I ate all that cafeteria food, but I actually lost weight – because it was so bad. Lots of memories of cereal for dinner.
It didn't take long for my friends and I to realize that our meal plan dollars were better spent elsewhere. Better, of course, was a relative term, because we ate a lot of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and finally, TGI Fridays in downtown Washington, D.C. when that was added to our meal plans. But even after steaks and potato skins became regular fare, nutrition was never, ever a focus of our dining. I vividly remember having Jell-O for dinner and a banana split for breakfast on more than one occasion.
Granted, I didn't go to college in Milwaukee, but it sounds like the experience I had is somewhat the same of my contemporaries at UWM and Marquette (except for maybe Fridays). It is, however, a little different for today's college students, as well as the recently graduated.
Carly Heberlein is a freshman at UW-Milwaukee, and she says eats at The Sandburg Café or sometimes at The Union, "but not as much because it's more expensive."
Unlike '90s me, she thinks Taco Bell is "kind of gross, but a lot of other people eat there. The line's always really long."
As a freshman, she says does still eat at the cafeteria. "I usually eat like two meals a day at it. The Grind is really expensive, too, so I can see how that would add up. I've been there a few times, maybe once a week for coffee in the morning," says Heberlein.
Is Heberlein concerned about the "freshman 15?" She says no, because she can work out at the nearby Klotsche Center. "People are concerned about it, we watch what we eat," she says. "The Palms is all fattening foods and it's so easy to eat there every night."
And Heberlein insists that her eating habits in college are normal for someone her age. With ramen noodles, macaroni and cheese, and granola bars as stand-ins in her dorm room, she says she eats two meals per day, plus snacks.
She says, "Usually I eat breakfast and dinner and then snack between classes. None of my suitemates have weird eating habits. And my parents will come and take me to dinner."
Alyssa Geisler, who graduated from UW-Milwaukee in 2012, recalls eating a lot of noodles her freshman year. Geisler, who co-founded the Nutrition Club at Brookfield East High School, was conscious of what she put in her body, but "that pretty much went out the window freshman year of college."
"We had a contraband microwave in our dorm room and used it to make so many noodles. Noodles of every kind. Particularly Bowl Appetit meals," she says.
And yes, she ate at Taco Bell or The Gasthaus – "another place where almost everything on the menu is fried" – in addition to anywhere her meal plan allowed.
But Geisler also shopped for food and cooked, when she wasn't at Noodles & Co. or Qdoba.
"We enjoyed grocery shopping for the first six months or so – it was a social activity – all of our friends went together since only one of us had a car," says Geisler. "We bought disgusting things that I would never pay money for now, such as sour cream and cheddar chips.
"We also shopped for our 'sober lives' and our 'inebriated lives' separately. While at Pick 'n Save, we would consider things we would want to eat when we were drunk (frozen pizza) and things that we should eat (spinach) as equally important."
After the moving out of the dorms, Geisler and her friends stopped eating in cafeterias, they "reigned in our disgusting habits."
Says Geisler, "My senior year, I lived with a roommate who measured the amount of peanut butter she put on toast and weighed her servings of quinoa. That really brought me back to my Nutrition Club roots. The last year of college was probably the healthiest my eating habits have ever been. Lots of my friends were on the same path, and lost their 'freshman 15' by that time."
Even though she hasn't been out of college long, Geisler says the inclination for unhealthy eating remains strong.
"In both of my full time jobs since college there is so much temptation. For some reason, a piece of candy or bag of chips is so much more appealing while one is at work. It seems that a lot of my middle-aged comrades have settled into the 'being OK with being moderately fat' mentality. That's actually exactly how one of my coworkers at Direct Supply described it when his wife packed leftover pasta and red meat for his lunch- with dessert."
Another difference between my college experience and the one of today? If I was writing this piece for the GW Hatchet, the school newspaper, I wouldn't be able to reach out to students for quotes on Twitter.
Says Tess Quinlan, a senior at Marquette:
@AndyTarnoff WI College food groups: Beer, cheese, brats, custard and everything else.— Tess Quinlan (@TessQuinlan) October 14, 2013
Post a comment / write a review.
Disclaimer: Please note that Facebook comments are posted through Facebook and cannot be approved, edited or declined by OnMilwaukee.com. The opinions expressed in Facebook comments do not necessarily reflect those of OnMilwaukee.com or its staff.