PORTLAND, Maine, Aug. 21, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- The University of New Hampshire (UNH) is among a growing number of colleges and universities across the country taking proactive steps to improve the health of students and faculty who dine in campus-run dining halls and quick-service food counters. Not only could their efforts make the dreaded "Freshman 15" a thing of the past, but administrators also hope to teach students a lifelong habit of making nutritious food choices and gain a competitive advantage in attracting new students.
The award-winning UNH dining program has recently signed a three-year contract extension with Guiding Stars®. Its patented nutrition guidance program helps diners identify at-a-glance foods that offer a better nutritional value. The Guiding Stars program is a core component of UNH's plan to be the healthiest university in the country by 2020 by not only helping students make healthier choices in the dining hall but also helping the university fine tune its menu and recipes to improve the nutritional value of the selections offered.
The program has already driven an increase in the number of students who say nutrient content/health influences their food selections. The university has also seen a dramatic increase in students' perception of the availability of healthy food choices since the inception of Guiding Stars. Today, nearly 50 percent of students now say UNH always offers healthy food choices, compared to just 34 percent prior to the Guiding Stars program.
Learning beyond the Classroom
For many students, going away to college is their first real experience with making their own food choices. If they haven't learned to make healthy choices at home, the opportunity to eat whatever they want, whenever they want can be a recipe for weight gain—the infamous "Freshman 15"—or worse, health issues that are difficult to reverse down the road.
"At home, in many cases mom or dad usually buys the groceries, making those decisions for their children," said Jon Plodzik, Director, University of New Hampshire Dining Services. "Here, they're on their own. We recognize this is a valuable opportunity for us to both improve our selection of healthier options while also teaching students to make nutritious choices now and in the future. Guiding Stars provides a scientifically grounded platform and simple tools that enable us to encourage lifelong healthy habits and reach our goal of becoming the healthiest university in the country."
Guiding Stars helps students make healthier selections quickly and easily with an at-a-glance labeling system that indicates the nutritional value of each item per serving. The program is based on an extensive database that rates and indexes each prepared item and pre-packaged product based on the 2010 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans and other national evidence-based nutrition policies. Each item that earns a star based on certain nutrition criteria is then labeled with the star value on a corresponding tag, sticker or other signage that indicates its nutritional value: one Guiding Star is good, two Guiding Stars is better and three Guiding Stars is best. Foods that receive no stars do not meet the program's rigorous criteria.
Small Changes Make a Big Difference
In addition to showcasing the Guiding Stars rating on existing menu options, UNH has also worked with Guiding Stars' Expert Chef Erin Dow to make adjustments and substitutions in recipes to improve the nutritional profile for a healthier result. Simple changes to the spices, bases and other aspects have helped elevate the star rating on many of their tried-and-true favorites.
"It's a major misconception that you have to sacrifice flavor and enjoyment in order to make foods better for you," said Sue Till, client services manager at Guiding Stars. "UNH is a perfect example of how to make palate-pleasing comfort foods and contemporary multi-cultural items both nutritious and delicious."
A Healthier Future, One Student at a Time
Not only is a healthy campus dining program beneficial for current students and faculty but it's also become a significant marketing tool for attracting prospective students. The University of North Dakota and Bates College in Lewiston, Maine have also implemented the Guiding Stars program to encourage students' overall health and wellness. In an age where childhood obesity is a harsh reality, programs like this stand out. Such a program, Till says, gives administrators a way to demonstrate to families that they genuinely care about students' well-being and are working on a variety of levels to help them make smart, responsible choices.
"College is a time of personal growth and discovery and a lot of education takes place outside the classroom," Till said. "As modern food preferences have changed with growing demand for more organic, vegan and vegetarian choices, as well as more ethnic influences, this dynamic environment makes it both an opportunity and a challenge to offer foods that students will enjoy but that are good for them, too. The Guiding Stars program takes the guesswork out of nutrition for both food service operations and students by pointing to the more nutritious choices and helping to shape a lifetime of healthy eating habits."
For more information about the Guiding Stars program, visit www.guidingstars.com.
About Guiding Stars Licensing Co.
Since 2006, Guiding Stars has been leading the way in helping consumers make nutritious food choices and has received a U.S. Patent for the Guiding Stars nutrition rating algorithm. The Guiding Stars nutrition guidance program is a simple, easy-to-understand tool for making good nutrition choices and is designed to make a positive and lasting impact on public health. Guiding Stars is currently found in more than 1,700 supermarkets including Hannaford, Food Lion, Sweetbay, Homeland, Kings Super Market, Marsh and Loblaw's Supermarkets. Guiding Stars has also expanded into public schools, colleges and hospitals and appears on the Shopper mobile iPhone application. Additional information can be found at www.guidingstars.com.
The University of New Hampshire, founded in 1866, is a world-class public research university with the feel of a New England liberal arts college. A land, sea, and space-grant university, UNH is the state's flagship public institution, enrolling 12,200 undergraduate and 2,300 graduate students. www.unh.edu
SOURCE Guiding Stars Licensing Co.