Food for thought: GCU promotes healthy eating

GCU Dining/Sodexo worked with the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic and its registered dietitian to create the Lopes Training Table, which features healthy fare for those focusing on eating better in the new year. (Photo courtesy of GCU Dining/Sodexo)

By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau

With the aroma of waffle fries and freshly baked bread wafting down Lopes Way, it isn’t always easy for Grand Canyon University students to choose healthy meals over their beloved burger-and-fries fare.

And that can be disheartening this time of year, when everyone is trying to keep their New Year’s weight-loss resolutions, including GCU students, who today are wrapping up the Canyon Activities Board’s New Year, New You Week. The week of healthy activities included sunrise yoga, self-care starter kits and a glow-in-the-dark, high intensity interval training class, along with the You Deserve It! event at 3 p.m. Friday on the Promenade.

“The biggest thing (in keeping healthy) is options, foodwise,” junior business major Esther Mitchell said as she prepared to work out with her friends at Papago Fitness Center. While finding a gym is easy – four of the campus’ seven fitness centers are conveniently located on the first floors of student living facilities – she said choosing a healthy meal isn’t as effortless amid the tempting fast food options. 

Campus registered dietitian Emily Orvos shares her healthy lunch picks through her #dishingwiththedietitian segment on Instagram. (Photo courtesy of GCU Dining/Sodexo)

It’s why the University's registered dietitian, Emily Orvos, likes to jaunt around campus to prove to students that more nutritious options are available than they might think.

Not only have students seen the addition of restaurants such as Pita Jungle, Kaminari poké bar and Panera Bread, which offer hummus, fish and salads, to name a few, but they can find healthy alternatives at places such as Chick-fil-A and Canyon Pizza.

Orvos partners with the popular #GCUDining Instagram page to bust the myth that healthy food is out of reach. Through her #dishingwiththedietitian social media segment, she shows students what she picked up for lunch at one of the campus’ 19 eateries, six convenience store locations or at the half-dozen beverage spots (soon to be seven once Nekter Juice Bar opens this semester at The Rivers apartment complex).

On this particular day, Orvos built a vegan bowl at Purple Greens with edamame and tofu as protein and iron sources. The mix helps deliver oxygen to muscles, she notes in her Instagram story, along with red peppers and shreds of orange carrot for a kick of vitamins A and C for immune health.

The fact that students even have access to a registered dietitian is unique. While a college might employ a nutritionist, Orvos said she doesn’t know if many colleges can tout their own registered dietitian. They are the credentialed experts in the field and must complete a master’s degree and clinical and board exams to earn the title.

Orvos, whose office is in the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic, counsels the campus community on nutrition. She helps students with health conditions such as diabetes or high blood pressure try to follow certain diets to keep healthy, though her door is open to any student: “I have students who come in that really aren’t eating a ton of nutritious foods. They want to learn more and they want to get better.”

The Healthy Picks Guide points students to some of the healthier meal choices at the campus' eating establishments. (Photo: GCU Dining/Sodexo)

One of the resources she points them to is the campus’ Healthy Picks Guide, which notes where the healthy food options are on campus (it’s available in her office and the Student Union and is posted on the #GCUDining Instagram).

“I show it basically to every student who comes to see me,” she said.

The guide highlights gluten-friendly, vegetarian and vegan options and includes which meals made the Healthy Picks list, meaning they exhibit up to seven healthy qualities, such as touting 700 or fewer calories or containing 750 milligrams or fewer of sodium. Healthy Picks meals receive a rating: the higher the rating (the highest is 7), the healthier the meal.

Subway’s Oven-Roasted Chicken scores a 7 out of 7, for example, Chick-fil-A’s Spicy Southwest Salad a 5 and Pita Jungle’s Hummus Trio a 6.

In addition to the Healthy Picks Guide, Jessica Maichel, Field Marketing Specialist for GCU Dining/Sodexo, said GCU Dining worked with the Canyon Health and Wellness Clinic to create the Lopes Training Table in the Student Union. The eatery’s slogan: “Healthy options that fuel the body and mind all day long.”

“It’s not just salads there, but it’s healthy proteins, healthy, lean starches and things like that, as well as vegetables,” Maichel said.

GCU Dining/Sodexo also collaborated with the Lope Shop to support students in their health and nutrition goals. Students who receive 15 stamps on their punch card can redeem a preselected item from the Lope Shop.

Hunter Voss checks inventory at the Herd Stop. The 1,000-square-foot market features a salad bar and hot bar. (Photo by David Kadlubowski)

Outside of the Lopes Training Table, students can find nutritious options at the Herd Stop at Antelope Apartments. The campus market was revolutionary in the world of campus convenience stores at the time it opened in January 2020. Its sheer size — it’s a 1,000-square-foot space — and options mean students have access to a retail spot that seems more like a supermarket than a mere convenience store.

The Herd Stop, which features not only a hot bar but a salad bar, specializes in fresh food and hardy vegetables, including vegan, gluten-free and other alternative products for students sensitive to certain foods or who choose to follow a particular diet lifestyle.

“Despite everything that’s been going on (with the pandemic), it’s still really popular,” Maichel said. 

The Herd Stop also specializes in fresh vegetables and fruits and vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free and gluten-free products. (Photo courtesy of GCU Dining/Sodexo)

That popularity showed there is a market at GCU for those types of alternative products.

“What’s funny is we do get the occasional person who says the Herd Stop has too many nondairy cheeses and they want regular cheese,” Maichel said with a laugh.

She added that for students looking to start their new year in a healthier way, Canyon Pizza also has embraced healthier options. Pick a Canyon Pizza salad or choose a pizza with cauliflower crust, veggies or nondairy cheese.

“A great thing about our social media is we’ve had the opportunity to take students’ feedback and bring change almost immediately,” Maichel said. “At Canyon Pizza, they didn’t have a soy or dairy-free cheese, but because they had given us so much feedback, we were able to bring in a dairy-free cheese."

It's all part of GCU embracing different lifestyles and healthier food choices.

“It’s just become part of the culture,” she said. “So why knock it?”

GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults can be reached at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.


Related content:

GCU Today: Survey says: Campus food menu is made to order

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