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NCHPAD - Building Healthy Inclusive Communities

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Cafeteria Choices


I have learned this month that many of us still consume meals in a cafeteria, and composing healthy meals are considered a challenge in this environment.

Children and teenagers may have two meals at school these days (School Breakfast Program (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/breakfast/) and National School Lunch Program (http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/)), while a college student living on campus may consume two to three meals, seven days per week cafeteria style. In the work force, cafeterias are an option in many institutional settings (hospitals, universities, etc.), as well as corporations.

With obesity rates among children tripling during the past 20 years, according to the 2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, it is time to identify healthy options/choices at school. Additionally, data from the 1998 and 1999 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) for eight states and the District of Columbia indicates that obesity rates are significantly higher among persons with disabilities, especially among blacks and persons aged 45-64 years. The findings also suggest that education on healthy nutrition choices must focus on persons with disabilities who may become obese, and obese persons who may acquire additional comorbidities.

Many organizations, such as the National School Lunch Program (www.schoolnutrition.org) are making healthy strides to improve the nutritional content of foods served to our children and still managing to keep them "kid friendly." For example, whole grains are incorporated into breading of meats, whole grain buns, and bread for sandwiches. Lower fat dairy options are provided. In university cafeterias, salad bars are often options for lunch and dinner, and vegetables are incorporated into daily dishes. Other options can include vegetarian options, turkey burgers, brown rice, and whole wheat pasta.

Healthy choices that you can make in a cafeteria setting can include:

  • fill a plate from the salad bar with plenty of color (fruit and vegetables), and choose a low fat dressing on the side
  • request a whole wheat bun or bread for a sandwich
  • order the pizza without meat and request light cheese and extra vegetables
  • stir a non-sugar coated cereal into low fat yogurt
  • make a sandwich and add additional vegetables (cucumbers, romaine, tomatoes, sprouts, green peppers)
  • add fresh salsa to your meat choice
  • skip white bread and high fat desserts

Additionally, fill out a comment card to inform the Food Service Director of what additional selections would help you make healthier choices.

Please send comments and questions to Valerie Lawson at vlawson@uic.edu.


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