Before 5 p.m. most nights, a crowd of students forms outside the Crossroads campus dining hall, all eager to eat their fill and get on with their evening plans.
When the doors are unlocked, the students file in, but despite the multitude of options Crossroads offers, a line always forms at the Blue Plate station, which features the night’s featured meal — typically a meat dish with a side and vegetables. Just as busy is the pizza station, which is directly ahead of the cash register. However, less populated are the 100 percent organic salad bar, the deli station and the vegan station.
This sort of eating behavior is what can cause problems for students, perhaps even causing the dreaded “Freshman 15.” But according to Ida Shen and Renee Simpson, Cal Dining’s assistant culinary director and dietician, respectively, students can very easily plan balanced meals that still allow for the occasional slice of pizza.
While the dining halls would be referred to by most as all-you-can-eat, Shen refers to them as “all you care to eat.”
“We’re not the food police,” Shen said. “For our students, they have to look at our dining hall like a kitchen … When you start looking at it that way, all of a sudden the world is your oyster.”
Both Shen and Simpson said students should draw from all of the stations in any given dining commons in order to create a balanced meal. For instance, a salad from the organic salad bar can be topped with chicken from the grill station or hummus from the deli station.
Simpson’s formula for a balanced plate at Crossroads is easy enough for any student to remember even after a day of hitting the books — half a plate of leafy greens, a quarter plate of whole grain carbohydrates and a quarter plate of protein with one tablespoon of something fatty like salad dressing or gravy. She added that most of her vegetables come from the organic salad bar, and when suitable cooked veggies aren’t available, she finds what she wants at the salad bar and microwaves them briefly to warm but not overcook them.
While Shen suggests that students follow the same sensibilities that Simpson described, she said students should also feel free to eat what they want so long as it’s in moderation.
“It’s okay to have pizza or fried food or dessert as long as it’s once or twice a week,” Shen said. “Just because it’s offered to you daily doesn’t mean you need to partake in it every day. It’s about balance.”
Just as easily as overeating can be a problem in the campus dining commons, so can undereating. Shen said cases are rare, but Cal Dining staff has in the past identified students with eating disorders and suggested that they seek out help at the Tang Center, the campus health center.
“We’re here for the health of all of our students,” Shen said.