The United Against Inequities in Disease chapter at the University of Connecticut has unveiled the “HuskyPlate,” a color-coordinated plate in dining halls intended to remind students of how to incorporate the food groups and their recommended portions into daily meals.
The plates consist of four different colors in a circle, each representing a different food group: Fruits, vegetables, lean protein and whole grains, which is similar to the USDA MyPlate model. The bottom of the plate also has a note encouraging students to choose a healthy beverage to improve the quality of the meal.=
Plates are on display in each dining hall and are stacked intermittently with the other plates that students take when they go get their meals. Plates in some dining halls have been removed due to a spelling error, but will be returned as soon as the error is rectified, Dining Services Director C. Dennis Pierce said.
The initiative, which is a collaborative effort between students including Damian Williamson, Maigh Attre and Stephany Gomes and UConn Dining Services, has been in talks for over three years after the University of New Hampshire launched a similar program called the “Wildcat Plate” in 2012.
Gomes said the inspiration for the plates came from UNH’s program as well as students recognizing it is much harder to eat healthy in an unstructured college environment.
“We were freshmen once and we struggled with adapting to this style of eating because most people come from a high school where their meals are made for them and they are forced to eat healthy,” Gomes said. “Then they come to college and do not have that guidance anymore so they are pushed into a buffet setting where, in between meals, all you have is pizza and pasta.”
Williamson said students often do not realize how much their present habits will affect them in the future.
“A lot of students may have a perspective that their eating behavior today will not have an impact on their health,” Williamson said. “But in lifespan studies, psychologists and nutritionists say that the lifestyle habits we form in our twenties will be (the same) for the rest of our life.”
The students, who are all seniors, saw the importance of the HuskyPlate idea after realizing many students often do not choose to create healthy eating rituals until later on in life when they begin to be affected by diseases related to poor diet, Gomes said.
“Heart disease, obesity and diabetes are the major killers in the United States,” Gomes said. “It is upsetting to us to see that people are waiting until the last minute to do anything about it.”
The students said they are especially appreciative of UConn Dining Services, where Pierce and the administrative team helped bring their idea to fruition several years ago and contributed to cost and manufacturing efforts.
“I think Dining Services wants to show that they care about their students and that they are not just offsite,” Williamson said.
Although many of the students involved in the effort are graduating this year, they said the initiative goes above and beyond one semester of trying out the plates.
“All of us are interested in a health profession, so I feel like it is more than leaving our mark,” Attre said. “It is our passion in life to do something like this, it is our passion to help people and this is helping not only ourselves but also our fellow students.”
William Pfanzelt, a second-semester mechanical engineering major, said the plates will be useful to students who truly care about their nutrition and getting their food groups.
“I think it will provide some help to people who do not know what to eat or how to eat healthy,” Pfanzelt said. “Otherwise, I do not feel like it will help that much.”
Caitlin Buckley, a second-semester actuarial science major, said the HuskyPlate is a good idea but that the university should continue to make healthy options more readily available to students in the dining halls.
“I think that encouraging health is a good thing,” Buckley said. “I do not like people telling me what to eat, but I get if it is a helpful suggestion. If you are really trying to enforce health, get rid of the ice cream and deserts up front.”
Michael Giannota, a sixth-semester finance major, said the plates are a good idea, but that it is the responsibility of students to make their choices.
“I have no opinion either way,” Giannota said. “It is up to the individual to make the decision on what they want to eat.”
Attre said the importance of HuskyPlate goes above and beyond healthy eating for students on any college campus.
“We always talk about ‘protecting our pack’ and that is not just at parties,” Attre said. “It extends beyond that, it is everyday in our classrooms and in our dining halls. So not only is it our duty, but it is our greatest pleasure to do this.”
Taylor Harton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.