A second helping of curly fries in the dining hall is less guilt-ridden when its nutritional values are unknown. But now, a perusal of the Dining Service Web site will reveal that one three-ounce serving of curly fries contains 291 calories, 15.67 grams of fat, and 315 milligrams of sodium.
It also has 9.9 milligrams of Vitamin C.
Since the beginning of the semester, nutrition information for the entrées served in Thorne Hall and Moulton Union appears on the Dining Service Web site. Diners now have access to information about food items' calories, fat, saturated fat, sodium, cholesterol, and vitamins, among other nutrients.
"I don't think a week goes by that somebody doesn't want to see more nutrition analysis," says Director of Dining and Bookstore Services Mary Lou Kennedy.
The information is obtained through a computer program, which the Dining Service has used in the past to keep track of inventory and determine the amount of ingredients needed for recipes. Now, when a recipe is entered into the database, the program collects the nutrition information for each ingredient and then adjusts these numbers to represent a single portion of the recipe.
Kennedy thinks that it is important for people to have access to information about the food they eat. For instance, she says that faculty and staff often monitor sodium levels in food, and she notes that "women, especially at college age, need to be concerned with their iron intake."
While Kennedy thinks it is important to have information available, she dislikes the idea of displaying the information in the dining hall next to the food because it would "take the pleasure out of eating."
She also stresses that to get the "whole picture" about nutrition, the information should be used in conjunction with other sources about healthy eating. She says such sources include the Web sites linked to by the Dining Service Web site and the bulletin boards in the dining halls with tips for healthy eating.
Although the nutrition information is available on the Web, Kennedy says that there are still glitches that need to be worked out. For instance, the complete name of the entrée is not always visible, and sometimes the portion size of an item is miscalculated.
Kennedy laughs as she remembers how shocked she was when one of her favorite desserts, dirt cake, appeared to have 10,000 calories. She says she knew it was not particularly healthy, but was astonished when such a high number appeared. As it turns out, the calorie count represented many servings of the dessert, instead of just one.
It is also difficult for the computer program to consistently provide information for all menu items because the recipe database is constantly being changed. Recipes are adjusted to be healthier or to accommodate the seasonal availability of certain ingredients.
The Dining Service also sometimes adjusts menus according to students' suggestions. For instance, Kennedy says that last year some students who were involved with a campus blood drive requested that foods high in iron be served during the week of the drive. At the time, Kennedy had no easy way to determine how much iron was in different menu items, but now she says that the new program would make such a task very simple.
In addition to providing healthy options and information about food, the Dining Service is working toward giving people more control over portion sizes. For example, several items are self-serve or "make your own," and two cookie sizes are offered.
Assistant Director of Operations for the Dining Service Michele Gaillard has noticed a trend toward health consciousness among students. Specifically, she points out that students are drinking less soda and more water than they have in the past.
In response, the Dining Service is trying to find healthier beverage options so that diners do not have to rely on soda.
"Maybe someday soda will disappear," Gaillard says.