Since last April I have lost over 94 pounds using the Weight Watchers point system. The real challenge has been to find the right foods, ones that have a manageable number of points. This has become even more challenging whenever I have tried to find food in MCCC’s cafeteria.
On a typical day this semester I was hungry and went to the cafeteria for a salad. I used my Weight Watchers barcode app to learn the number of points for a serving of the available salad dressings. Unfortunately the one low-fat dressing was a flavor that did not interest me. A serving of the Italian dressing they were offering was 4 Weight Watchers points. Currently my points limit is 45 points a day and for many others in my program it is just 26 or 29 points per day. In contrast, at Wendy’s, Burger King and Arby’s I can usually find a dressing that only has a value of 1 or 2 points.
One of the nice things about our cafeteria is that you can get a custom made sandwich or wrap but unfortunately the line can get very long and you may only have time to grab a pre-made sandwich or wrap from the sandwich case but unfortunately there is not much variety. You can get a Italian hoagie but not an Italian wrap. You can get a smaller Kaiser club sandwich with ham or turkey but not with roast beef. At both the sandwich concession and the refrigerator, wheat hoagie rolls are nowhere to be found.
According to cafeteria General Manager Frank DiBella many of theses healthier alternatives such as wheat hoagie rolls and wheat pizza crust at the pizza station have been slow movers when the cafeteria has offered them in the past.
“We have a very intricate register system that tracks each food when it’s purchased and how many are purchased, so we have a history of what’s called a menu mix and that tells you the popularity of a specific item.” DiBella says wheat rolls weren’t selling as well as Kaiser rolls DiBella says, “We get account daily of what our menu mix is. who’s buying how much of what.”
This means if healthy option is not popular it will likely get cut. DiBella went on to explain, “The popularity of an item does dictate whether we back on the menu or not. “we will try different things again. But if we have a failure rate of a specific item on regular basis, we tend not to continue to offer that.”
The cafeteria has added specialty food stations over the past few years, such as the Mongolian Gill. Some of these provide healthier options but they are daily or weekly rotating concepts, making it hard to plan when you’re thinking about how to allot your daily points.
Sometimes you see nutrition experts on TV asking the higher calorie lower nutrition food and beverage options to be eliminated from cafeterias such as the one found here at Mercer. This is not what I’m asking for. I am just asking for healthier low calorie foods to still be available. Even I still eat more caloric foods from time to time, but only in moderation, and only when I can justify budgeting points for them.
My feeling is shared by John Kalinowski, coordinator of Mercer’s nutrition programs as well as the Exercise Science Program. He says, “I think cafeteria food here at Mercer is no different from the choices we have in the rest of society. There are some good choices and some not so good choices.”
In order to make good choices, however, one needs to know the nutrition values of the food items. Unlike most restaurant chains the Mercer cafeteria does not publish a nutrition chart. I’ve had to become a detective to figure out how many point some items are worth. For example, I figured out that the Toufayan Bakeries wrap they sell comes in both white and wheat variations and calculates to Weight Watcher Points Plus Value of 7. There is Toufayan low carb wrap that only has a Points Plus value of 4 but it is not carried in the cafeteria. DiBella says he will try to get the low crab wraps ordered. But it is safe to say if they don’t end up selling they may not be around very long.
People like me who are trying to make the healthiest choices can’t always do so because healthy food is less popular and sells poorly. This is unfortunately the nature of free market and supply and demand. As a result, students like me, who want to do right by their bodies may be forced to look off campus to find the foods we need.