All-you-can-eat dining will require healthy choices and self control

It is noon, one of the busiest hours of the day for lunch. The dining line ends near the entrance. By 12:30 p.m., the dining halls will be full.

With 10 minutes in between each class, some students are in such a hurry, they take their food with them and eat it at their next destination.

However, starting in August, lunch at TCU may be a different experience, one that experts say could have mixed effects on TCU’s nutritional status.

The new dining area will consist of an all-you-can-eat buffet-style bistro without a to-go service, Rick Flores, general manager of Dining Services, said.

Stephanie Dickerson, a nutrition counselor for Dining Services, said the portion sizes have been carefully controlled and believes that students will exercise common sense in their food choices and not abuse the all-you-can-eat service.

“You can come through only one time,” Dickerson said. “You don’t have to come through six or seven times. Students will have control.”

Rebecca Dority, a nutrition instructor and Dining Services adviser, also said the nutritional value would remain about the same.

Gina Hill, an assistant professor of nutrition and director of the Didactic Program in Dietetics, said there are many factors that determine what students eat, including time and expense.

Dority said the plan may not cause students to eat more and could actually have the opposite effect.

“With time limitations, students may be skipping meals,” she said.

Hill said by skipping meals, students put themselves in a position to snack more and make unwise choices later in the day.

“Students may go more for convenience foods, which are high in fat and sodium,” she said.

Hill recommended fruit as a convenient and healthy option for students on the run.

Some students, such as sophomore accounting major Tara de Fonseka, don’t think students will use the new all-you-can-eat plan for what it is worth.

“It’s the same food,” De Fonseka said. “People will eat the same portions.”

Dority said there is an advantage to requiring students to sit down and eat at the cafeteria, because it will “bring the traditional meal back to students.”

“How you eat changes in college from when you’re at home,” Dority said. “Your eating on the go all of the time. We tend to carry on and do the same thing when we’re out of college.”

All-you-can-eat-style dining halls are already part of many Texas schools, such as the University of North Texas, Southern Methodist University, and Baylor University, each having at least one such dining option, according to their Web sites.

Some plans offered by these schools include a fixed meal plan for the all-you-can-eat, as well as some form of “dining dollars” for other on-campus locations.

At UNT, there are six all-you-can-eat cafeterias, said Jennie Mann, office manger for UNT Dining Services. Mann said the cafeterias are all well-populated by students.

“They love the food and they love the atmosphere,” Mann said.

Like TCU’s bistro, UNT does not allow students to take food out of the cafeteria. Two exceptions are if someone is ill, for which a friend can get a sick tray for them if they have a note, or if they need to be in a class, for which they can get a sack lunch, Mann said.

Mann said there are also two “grab and go” areas where students can take the food out, which can also be covered by the meal plan.

If students think no such options are at TCU’s bistro, they might be tempted to run by one of the local fast food restaurants. Dority advises them to proceed with caution and common sense.

“Sometimes, what restaurants say is a healthier alternative only looks healthier,” Dority said.

For example, many fast food restaurants now offer deli-style sandwiches. Because they are marketed as fresh and are made with meats such as chicken or turkey, people may be fooled into thinking they are healthier, when some of them have twice as much fat as a hamburger, Dority said.

Hill agreed.

“You can make good decisions wherever you go,” she said. “Avoid things that are fried or in heavy sauces. Avoid that extra patty. Get smaller portions, even kid-sized portions.

Dority said one of the best fast-food restaurants in the area is Chick-fil-A, because it offers healthier choices than others.

Dority said the Chargrilled Chicken Sandwich is an example of a good, lighter choice, especially when a fruit cup is substituted for fries. However, Dority said there are no bad restaurants or menu items, because all types of food are fine in moderation.

“Having one hamburger isn’t detrimental,” Dority said. “Anytime we try to deprive ourselves, we tend to do the opposite. The key is making better food choices.”