Thomasina Johnson, Editorial Editor

(HANNAH MILLER | The Miami Student)

Many food faux pas are evident as you peruse Miami University’s dining hall nutritional information.

Hydrations’ Chocolate Peanut Butter milkshake has 1,092.2 calories and the roast beef BLT sandwich is loaded with 1,111.7. Wake up to Bell Tower’s Sausage ‘n’ Egg Bagelwich, which weighs in at 673.9 calories. One of the worst choices (nutritionally speaking) is Dividends’ Apple, Pork and Bleu Cheese Panini, with 4,549.8 calories and 136.7 grams of fat.

There are, of course, healthy choices at Miami. But often, these items are hidden by more appealing, easier choices. Why wait in line for a healthier sandwich when you can grab a piece of pizza in 10 seconds?

“Students often only look at the food in front of them,” senior Ian Merkel said. “If it’s out of sight, it’s out of mind.”

Merkel worked at Alexander Dining Hall and the Greystone Market for three years.

Merkel said popular, inexpensive, and often times nutritionally lacking items — like pasta and macaroni and cheese — were placed front-and-center at the dining halls.

“Many items are self-serve, so people will take as much as they want or think they want,” Merkel said.

Sophomore Sarah Unser has worked at La Mia Cucina for two years. Unser said a combination of mostly frozen, pre-packaged food and the cost-saving reduction of the quality of ingredients may make it harder for students to make healthy eating choices. According to La Mia Cucina’s online nutritional information, 13 menu items are more than 1,000 calories.

“It’s a business, and I understand they try to get the best deals,” Unser said. “Things taste different from last year, not as good.”

Unser said she would like to see La Mia Cucina switch some of its pre-packaged, sodium-heavy ingredients with fresh, homemade items.

How is Miami trying to help students make the best choices?

Aside from providing detailed nutritional information online, Miami’s dining website says, “nutrition fact cards are supplied for each item served with nutritional information.”

However, Merkel said these cards are difficult for the average time-strapped student to find.

“The pie-charts were nice, but not very detailed and didn’t explain much,” Merkel said.

Merkel added that since students can serve themselves, students often take more than they can, or should, eat.

Karen Recker, manager of culinary services, believes the nutritional charts were not the best solution to campus nutrition.

“The pie-chart took up a lot of space,” Recker said. “As ingredients would change, it would be difficult to update them.”

Replacements for the pie charts are currently under discussion.

“They could print out a nutritional sheet or poster for the entrance of each dining hall, but people might not use it,” Merkel said.

Chad Budreau, manager of computer systems and marketing at the Demske Culinary Support Center, said the customized nutritional kiosks would eventually be located in each dining hall.

“The costs (of setting up this equipment) were minimal compared to the benefit,” Budreau said. “We saved a lot of money with internal programming.”

Another new merging of technology and dining services are the offers, discounts and promotions application (app) for Smartphones.

Recker said students can text DINING to 313131 and receive further information about dining events on campus. Currently, these texts are limited to special offers from dining halls, and do not include nutritional information.

“We could eventually add apps for phones that would be similar to the kiosks,” Budreau said. “There just are not a lot of road maps. Not many universities are doing these kinds of things. This is uncharted territory.”

Sophomore Sam Johnson, a student manager who oversees marketing to find new ways to reach students, said the only other school that has a dining hall texting service is Stanford University.

“It’s important to have a website, to embrace technology and stay at the cutting edge,” Johnson said. “(The texting service) is creating conversation. If people are talking about our dining halls, it’s a good thing.”

Merkel believes students who use the dining halls would find a nutritional application for their phones very useful.

However, a nutritional app for Smartphones would take a lot of time to adequately develop and test. Recker said the process for creating a dining hall texting service took months.

“We started researching different companies from all over the word and meeting with legal representatives in September,” Recker said.

Budreau said safety was the reason for the lengthiness of the service.

“Safety is a top priority,” Budreau said. “Our goal is to protect students and have clear guidelines with no spam. We want to make it easy for students to opt in or out (of the texting program).”

The future for Miami dining hall nutritional information is still undecided, but it could hold many new methods of incorporating technology into the lives of students.

“The smart phone generation is growing so fast,” Johnson said.

Johnson thought the new dining hall phone application would be a unique way to reach people more easily than the multitude of posters and table tents that bombard students every day.

Budreau said in the future, Miami, taking a cue from other universities, might begin a nutritional system where students take a picture of a barcode with their phone camera. The picture of the barcode is processed and nutritional information is given for each specific item “scanned.”

Times have changed not only for students, but for the dining halls. With these new technological advances being incorporated into the lives of students, the future of merging nutrition and technology looks bright.

Moving away from paper advertisements to text messages is another way dining services is staying committed to students, Recker said. 

“We work to keep them happy,” Recker said. “When they’re here, they’re home. Students are everything.”