How College Campuses Can Become Wellness Allies

About the author : Tina Reddington

National Manager, Nutrition and Wellness, Universities and Schools

Published on : 5/9/23
  • Nutrition, health and wellness are complex topics, and encouraging positive behavioral changes can be tricky. Colleges cannot force students embrace healthy choices. What they can do, though, is provide the right tools, guidance and encouragement for students who want to lead a healthy lifestyle but may feel overwhelmed about how to do so.

    The latest chapter of the President to President thought leadership series illustrates how successful wellness initiatives can be when they are driven by students, faculty and staff. In "A Grassroots Approach to Comprehensive Wellness,” Baldwin Wallace University President Robert C. Helmer, J.D., Ph.D., describes the essential role that members of the campus community have played in the development of health and wellness programs. Surveying students and faculty helped the campus identify needs around physical and emotional health and revealed a desire for more information and education regarding health topics. The campus also recognized a need to address food insecurity and its negative impacts on overall well-being. Helmer’s team worked with the campus community to develop events and programs that are fun, engaging and educational and that help make wellness a top priority.  

    Most students understand that they need to proactively maintain their health. For example, Sodexo’s 2022-2023 Student Lifestyle Survey revealed that about half of today’s college students feel concerned about the current state of their health and well-being. Unfortunately, students are often stressed and busy, making it difficult to find time to focus on their health. Since 2020, there has been a 57% increase in the number of students who know they should eat healthy food but do not do so. Many students don’t feel that their college is prepared to help them manage difficulties related to their well-being; less than half of students believe that their campus will adequately support them if physical and mental health concerns arise.

    There is immense opportunity for college campuses to become wellness allies for students, but only if they have the right tools and resources. Achieving good health and well-being requires a nuanced approach that blends art and science. Sodexo draws from a deep well of expertise in both health science and culinary arts to continuously develop wellness resources for college campuses. Our efforts are driven by the latest data and insights around nutrition, well-being and behavioral habits. We use all of this information to enable college campuses to become the wellness allies that today’s students need through our monthly Mindful wellness themes, which feature supporting messaging campaigns, activities, events, social media posts and articles in campus newsletters.


    Nutrition Professionals Offer Guidance and Encourage Participation

    Registered dietitians serve as health and wellness champions for the campus community. Sodexo is the largest employer of RDs in the U.S., and I’m so proud to lead this team at our partner campuses. These dedicated nutrition professionals offer individualized counseling with students and parents, plan and host educational events and advise on menu development to ensure everyone who dines on campus can enjoy healthy meals that meet their unique needs. Sodexo also offers internships in nutrition for students who are interested in exploring a career in the field of health and wellness. Our RDs and interns help students navigate the many complexities of health and nutrition by engaging students on social media, and they encourage participation in fun, themed Mindful events on campus, such as yoga, Walks to Wellness, Wellness Wednesdays and health fairs.


    Culinary Experts Ensure the Nutritious Choice is the Delicious Choice

    Healthy eating sometimes struggles with an image problem. The term “health food” may call to mind flavorless boiled chicken and soggy spinach. But food can be delicious, bold, flavorful AND healthy when it’s prepared with a dash of culinary creativity.

    That’s the goal of Mindful by Sodexo, a nutrition empowerment program that encourages students to form lifelong healthy habits. Executive chefs and registered dietitians worked together to create Mindful recipes that are high in flavor but low in calories, sodium and saturated fat. These satisfying dishes help students enjoy healthy indulgence while learning to choose nutrient-dense foods that keep them full.

    Plant-based eating is another opportunity to blend wellness with culinary innovation. Reducing meat consumption offers a host of both health and environmental benefits. Sodexo has partnered with the Humane Society of the United States to train campus chefs on how to prepare plant-based dishes that are appealing and delicious. It’s one way Sodexo is working towards our goal of ensuring that 50% of items on our resident dining menus are plant-based by 2025.


    Special Focus on Unique Dietary Needs

    Some students have specific dietary requirements that add an additional layer of complexity in their efforts to maintain their well-being. Our RDs are always available to help students find dining options on campus that meet their needs.

    For students with food allergies, Sodexo offers a variety of dining options on campus. One example is the Simple Servings resident dining platform, which offers fresh, flavorful meals prepared without the eight most common allergens. Simple Servings is open to all students and features dishes that are prepared without milk, eggs, wheat, soy, shellfish, peanuts, tree nuts and gluten, which account for 90% of all food allergy reactions.

    Student athletes need dining options that support their fitness and training goals. Sodexo’s athletic performance program, The Circuit, provides the resources student athletes need to excel on the field and in the classroom. This comprehensive program includes nutrition guidance and other tools to keep student athletes fueled, equipped and connected.