OSU Food: Why Hide the Healthy Stuff? (full article by Tara Sanders)

For the print version of this article, and the response by Genevieve Weber, visit: OSU Food: Why Hide the Healthy Stuff?

The article below is a more in-depth piece based on a conversation that took place at OSU’s Marketplace West dining hall between Genevieve Weber (Editor of the Corvallis Advocate), Robyn Jones (Director of Memorial Union Retail Foodservice at OSU), Rich Turnbull (Director of University Housing and Dining Services Foodservice), and Tara Sanders (a Registered Dietician with UHDS).

OSU Foodservices wished to rebut an article written by Cristina Himka in the Corvallis Advocate in October, 2012, entitled, OSU Foods: Best Advice—Eat Off Campus.

The article below is by Tara Sanders. To view the second full article by Genevieve Weber, visit:
‘Comfort Food’ and Economics vs. Health.


Healthy Options: It’s a Matter of Choice

On Oct. 4, the Corvallis Advocate printed an article titled OSU Foods: Best Advice-Eat Off Campus, written by Christina Himka, that claims healthy options are difficult to find on campus.  In fact, here at OSU, healthy and delicious food options abound on campus, and are easily found at every dining location. Individuals have different definitions and perspectives for what “healthy choices” are.  For some, it may mean eating a plant-based diet; for others, it may mean eating foods that are traditional to their culture; for some, it’s choosing locally grown foods; for others, it’s choosing lower calorie options, etc. Therefore, it’s important to provide a wide range of food choices to meet customer expectations and dietary needs.  Here are just a few highlights of the ongoing efforts OSU is making to provide a range of healthy choices on campus.

University Housing and Dining Services

In University Housing and Dining Service (UHDS) dining centers that include Marketplace West, Arnold Bistro, McNary Dining and Bing’s Café our customers (primarily residents) can find a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean meat, beans and vegetable protein sources as well as low-fat, calcium rich options-the foundation of a healthy diet.
As self-funded auxiliary, University Housing and Dining Services receives no state funding and is fully dependent on the sale of the goods and services we provide to our residents and guests.  Our mission is to provide a living-learning environment as a gateway for academic and personal success through inclusive and innovative programs and services.  We serve students from all 50 states and 47 countries from around the world with each having specific cultural expectations regarding food.  Our mission is to provide comfort foods to assist students making their transition to a large college environment.  For some students that may mean legumes and rice, for others that may mean steak and potatoes, for others it may mean sushi.  Regardless of where students originate from we have a team of chefs that research authentic recipes and preparation techniques to provide a food away from home experience that meets the needs and expectations of the very diverse population we serve.


We strive to make the healthy choice the easy choice. To this end, fresh fruit is kept near cash registers –for only $.75, you can easily add a serving of fruit to your meal.  Sides of vegetables, whole grains and beans are only $.95 and you can add a mini salad to any meal for only $1.25.  Many options are made-to-order and the customer can choose to customize their meal to improve the nutrition–such as hold the mayo, dressing on the side, light cheese, etc.  Ice water dispensers are available in each dining center to encourage water as the #1 beverage choice in alignment with the Fresh from the Faucet Initiative.

In all of our dining centers we serve menu options a la carte meaning our entrees, sides, drinks and other items are sold separately. We have kept our sides dishes (vegetables and starches) at .95 to encourage purchasing them—the goal being that it’s “easy” to add a side of steamed veggies because it’s only .95.  This also makes it easy to build a healthy plant based plate very inexpensively (for instance, a side of veggies, brown rice and beans is only $2.85).  For the most part we are using fresh produce (vs canned or frozen), but we occasionally use canned and frozen such as Santiam or FlavorPac frozen vegetables and Truitt Bros canned beans that are grown and processed in Oregon.  For the last few years we have offered a free side of carrots, a “healthy default”, with sandwiches and wraps-prior to this shift, we served a side of chips.  While this hasn’t been the most “popular” change, we have many guests that appreciate it—also, we still have chips available, they will just cost a little extra.  We have many options that are customizable and customers can build their own signature meal-In all of our locations we have large salad bars that offer a wide range of fresh veggies and plant based proteins (beans, tofu, edamame).  At McNary’s Boardwalk, customers can build their own stir fry specialty but choosing their favorite vegetable, meat or tofu and sauce or at Zephyros Mediterranean Cuisine guests can create their own Bene-Vita bowl, a hearty grain and bean based entrée.  The majority of our entrees, sides and desserts are made from scratch; however, we do rely on some quality commercial products because of our volume.  We sample our commercial products at our regular chef meetings to determine if we will carry the product; clean ingredient lists, minimal additives/preservatives, overall nutrition are weighed into our decision.  On the south side of campus, we have a small grocery store called Cascadia Market where offer a bounty of whole foods, including natural, local and organic offerings as well as options for special dietary considerations.

While some options are higher in sodium-especially those options containing cheese, commercially processed foods including breads and rolls, or higher sodium sauces-many of our made from scratch options are often lower in sodium.  Also, many of our options are have made or order and customizable–such as the curry bowls at Marketplace West’s Ring of Fire or McNary’s Boardwalk Café’s Stir Fry or Arnold Bistro’s Baked Potato Bar, that allow you to choose lower sodium ingredients if you are watching sodium levels.

Outreach & Education

UHDS employs a full-time Registered Dietitian to meet the needs of those with special diets and to ensure a wide range of healthful options.  In addition to promoting nutrition in the dining centers, programming and outreach also occurs in the resident halls to educate students on healthy eating and cooking.  Also, UHDS is an active partner in OSU’s Healthy Campus Initiative/BeWell @OSU as well as a serving as an dietetic internship site for students training to become dietitians.

Vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options are available in each restaurant to meet the needs of those who practice these diets.  Guests can view vegan, vegetarian and gluten free menus online, as well as nutrition and allergy information for any menu item at http://oregonstate.edu/uhds/eat.  Cascadia Market, a grocery store located on the south side of campus, carries an array of fresh produce and wholesome foods as well as options for special diets (gluten free, dairy free).

We partner with many local vendors and also purchase campus grown produce grown at Oak Creek farm.  Approximately 36% of purchases are local and define local as Oregon grown, produced, processes or manufactured.  We offer local produce from Cascadia Market and we often feature local produce on our dining center and catering menus.  Once a month we host a “Harvest of the Month” tasting table, where we feature a local farm and offer free samples of a dish that uses local produce. Many of the local farmers and vendors that we partner with use sustainable agricultural practices- for instance, Truitt Bros, Kenagy Farms, Red Hat Melon, Rainsheep, OSU Oak Creek, Country Natural Beef.  While we respect an individuals choice to practice an organic diet, we are not able to offer a wide range of organic products in our dining centers because of the financial impact and the cost that we would have to pass onto our customers; however, as mentioned earlier, we have many options available at Cascadia Market

In addition to purchasing local, UHDS is very committed other areas of environmental sustainability and efforts and practices are listed here http://oregonstate.edu/uhds/sustainability-efforts. Not listed is our most recent pilot project-Eco2Go.  Eco2Go is a reusable container program to reduce to-go container waste. http://oregonstate.edu/uhds/eco2go and incentives use with a 20 cent discount off every purchase.

Memorial Union Retail Operations

Memorial Union Retail Foodservice, which includes locations such as Pangea Café, JavaStop, E.Cafe, Ava’s, Buenos Burritos, Bites Convenience Store, Dixon Café, and JavaII, also provides a variety of choices for their customers. The department has collaborated with the Registered Dietitian from Student Health Services to ensure a variety of healthy options are being served.   Granted, customers can order muffins, scones, and the high-in-calorie Chicken Caesar Wrap quoted in the Oct. 4 article, but they can also choose fresh fruit and veggies, a wonderful Vegan Bean and Rice Salad, custom-made smoothies at Dixon, Meatless Monday specials in Pangea, and freshly made sandwiches, salads and wraps designed to meet the diverse calorie and nutritional needs of our customers.

Every step of the way, OSU students and staff have the opportunity to make healthy choices, and we’re constantly working to make it even easier.For more information regarding healthy options available on the OSU campus, please contact Robyn Jones, Food Service Director for MU Retail locations at 541-737-0492 and Tara Sanders, UHDS Registered Dietitian for University Housing and Dining Services locations at 541-737-3915.

by Tara Sanders, Registered Dietitian, OSU University Housing and Dining Services Foodservice