The cafeteria: a cavernous room filled with counters of lukewarm food sitting beneath a heat lamp for hours. Such dining was a staple for colleges and universities for years.

But not a single cafeteria can be found today at Oregon State University. In recent years, University Housing and Dining Services has filled the campus' three dining halls with salad bars, convenience stores offering fresh fruit and vegetables, and smaller concept restaurants with menus that aim to provide inexpensive healthy options and authentic international cuisine for students on meal plans and anyone else in the campus community.

‘Stealth health'

More universities nationwide are offering healthy dining options, such as more offerings for vegetarians and vegans, who eat no animal products.

OSU is following suit, and posts meatless offerings at each dining location on its website, along with menus and nutritional information - including gluten-free and allergy information - for each of its restaurants, convenience stores and coffee shops.

But they're not stopping at just vegetarian-friendly food; the university's dining team will be implementing a "stealth health" program this year to sneak healthy food past students.

For example, side salads are available 95 cents each, and healthier items are positioned on the menu so that students read these options first; Calabaloo's Café at both McNary Dining Center and Marketplace West hides its milkshakes on the bottom right corner of the menu. Free ice water and fresh fruit are also placed near the cash register at many locations so more customers will pick them up on impulse.

New recipes also have to be approved by Tara Sanders, University Housing and Dining Service's nutritionist; she checks out aspects such as calories, sodium content and fat through the university's recipe management software and makes suggestions to chefs on how to make the dish healthier.

Following national dining trends, Boardwalk Café is also launching a bean-and-grain menu developed by McNary chef David Lewis using ingredients such as quinoa, black-eyed peas and kasha; they'll serve the dishes for lunch and dinner nearly every day of the school week.

But the dining team is not advertising the bean-and-grain menu to be nutritious because many student and nonstudent customers will give the word "healthy" a negative connotation.

"Why spoil it because it's healthy?" Lewis said. "We're not even going to tell them."

Likewise at Arnold Dining Center, Chef Bruce Hoerauf sneaks past customers a healthier version of the preeminent student dining staple - pizza - by making it more in the Italian style with a thin crust and less cheese and sauce. The dining center even has a separate oven to keep gluten-free dough separate from dough containing gluten.

International cuisine

Marketplace West sees many international student customers - this fall, OSU overall will see about 5 percent of the total student population come from outside the U.S. - and Chef Jay Perry had this in mind when developing menus for the center's six restaurants.

The resulting menus feature meals with seemingly unfamiliar ingredients and an authentic taste.

For example, Ring of Fire now uses tamari and fish sauce instead of salt, and salted turnip - an ingredient Perry hadn't heard of before researching Asian cuisine - in pad thai. There are also items with heavy Japanese, Polynesian and Vietnamese influences.

Perry estimates 75 percent of Ring of Fire's customers are international students from Asia, so the dining team aimed to create "cultural comfort food."

"We want them to not miss home," he said.

They're also incorporating more trends from the restaurant scenes in Portland by breaking out their own versions of "street food," such as Korean tacos, a popular hybrid of Mexican and east Asian cuisine.

Creating authentic menus with uncommon ingredients can also help domestic students find a new appreciation for food.

"It adds something to their palate they may have never tasted before," Perry said.

Balanced diets

The dining team also closely monitors what students are eating by looking at feedback submitted to dining's main office and watching what food gets purchased more often than other items. Chefs also like to walk the dining areas and ask students what they think about what's available. That interest in feedback helped OSU win the Restaurants and Institutions Magazine's Ivy Award in 2009 for their dining and customer service excellence.

But just because students can have a nutritious meal all day, every day on campus doesn't mean they'll always make the best choices.

Each hall offers its share of junk food and less-than-nutritious options; for example, sides of sour cream are always available to students eating at Serrano Grill, though the condiment is far from healthy or even authentic to Mexican cuisine.

The dining team recognizes that a young population, many of whom are living away from home for the first time, typically wants junk food on the menu. In the end, all the dining halls can do is provide students with healthy options in addition to comfort foods.

"It's their choice if they're going to want it or not," Hoerauf said.

But with a diverse yet overly young customer base, offering some unhealthy foods isn't doing students a disservice, says nutritionist Sanders.

"It's about a balanced diet," she said. "Even a cookie is part of a balanced diet."

Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at 541-758-9510 or


(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.