Healthy living options for UNL students


Senior Matthew Lauritsen nervously helps culinary science majors Amanda Vuu and Shane Zimmerman cook rice.

Story and photo by Caroline Brauer

Late night cramming sessions: potato chips, coffee, pop, candy, doughnuts, cold pizza.

College students stereotypically have horrible eating habits, and for many, the concept of exercise is walking to the fridge. But students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln don’t have to fall victim to this pattern.

UNL has come a long way in promoting healthy lifestyles on campus. In 1883 the school had only one gymnasium, on the second floor of what was then University Hall. Intramural sports didn’t exist until 1929, and women couldn’t participate until 1970.

Some of UNL’s focus on healthy lifestyles results from the campus Wellness Initiative, a program developed by the chancellor’s committee on wellness to promote better overall health.

Today, student options for pursuing better health include: training programs at the recreation center, education efforts and promotion of healthy foods by dining services and extra-curricular cooking classes.

The Campus Recreation Center (the Rec), built in three phases at a cost of $14.9 million, offers multiple exercise options for students. A strength and conditioning room offers weights and cardiovascular workout equipment. Students can also swim laps in the pool or play sports on one of eight multipurpose courts. Trained professionals are always available to answer questions.

Kimberly Barrett, assistant director for UNL’s Wellness Initiative, said the variety of options offered at the Rec contribute to its atmosphere.

“There is nothing intimidating about this Rec center because it provides so much more than a typical gym, and you don’t have to start out knowing it all,” Barrett wrote in an e-mail.

Barrett said the Rec and the East Campus Activities Building log 20,000 visits each week.

William McLaughlin, a sophomore construction management major, lifts weights and runs at the Rec three to five days a week.

“Having access to an area that’s made especially to help with a person’s health is critical,” he said.

McLaughlin said he appreciated that UNL offered students free access to the Rec.

“You don’t have to go off campus and sign a membership that costs $100,” he said.

However, for a fee students can speak with a personal trainer or a staff nutritionist.

Pam Edwards isn’t a stranger to nutrition. As the assistant director of university dining services, she makes having nutritious foods available and easily recognizable in dining centers a priority.

According to Edwards, all dining centers offer fresh fruits and vegetables daily.


Whole grains are incorporated into recipes and alternate whole grain options of foods like muffins, pancakes and biscuits are also offered. When students enter the dining center, these healthy options and others are often marked by yellow starbursts labeled “WOW.”

WOW stands for Working on Wellness, the tagline used by the Wellness Initiative.

Edwards said the tags are supposed to grab students’ attention.

“We want to make people take note that it might be a healthy choice for them,” she said.

The dining services website also highlights healthy choices by adding cherry and celery icons after fruits and vegetables listed on the daily menus.

However, University Dining uses the Internet for more than just posting menus.

“We’re moving into the world of social media,” Edwards said.

University Dining has Twitter and Facebook accounts updated three times a week. Followers and friends can read about nutrition tips for the week, WOW highlights and different WOW snacks.

University Dining also sent dining guide booklets to all resident students offering advice on how to choose balanced meals in the dining halls. Each dining center offers buffet-style meals.

Joel Fogerty, manager of CPN dining, said it can be a challenge for students to limit themselves.

“I try to remind students they can always go back, they don’t have to load their plates,” he said.

Fogerty also said he thinks people can get too hung up on diets.

“I usually tell students to eat Brussels sprouts or beets or things like that. But sometimes I talk about ooh those cinnamon rolls look really good,” Fogerty laughed. “My whole thing is just moderation. Eat things you like, but get a variety of foods.”

Not all students have access to the services of University Dining. Some students live off campus and are responsible for making and purchasing their own food. However, a course called Cooking 101, put on by Student Involvement and UNL culinary science students, teaches students cooking basics.

Culinary science senior Shane Zimmerman and junior Amanda Vuu volunteered to help teach the course, which consists of three, two-hour seminars. The course is only in its second year, and its first being taught by students.

Vuu said they focus on cooking basics and ignore elaborate techniques students wouldn’t use. She said doing your own cooking helps with managing nutrition.

“Nutrition is the most important thing, and at home you can control that,” she said.

Her advice to students was to invest in a wok because it was versatile and lasted for a long time.

“This is my parents’ wok,” she said holding up the wok during the stir-fry demonstration. “They’ve had it since before I was born so it’s older than I am. So you know they’re a really good investment.”

Sophomore business major Blake Jensen said he heard about the cooking course in an e-mail and decided to attend.

He said he needed to learn how to cook since he was no longer living at home.

“It’ll probably help with my overall nutrition,” he said. “Staying healthy is hard, especially since Mom and Dad aren’t cooking for me anymore.”

Edwards’ advice to all students: “Include a variety. Don’t say you can’t have dessert. Learn how to work all foods in and don’t forget activity.”

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