MU Student Center restaurants 'stealthy' about healthy

Wednesday, March 16, 2011 | 5:17 p.m. CDT; updated 10:07 p.m. CDT, Wednesday, March 16, 2011
Ellen Schuster, an associate state nutrition specialist, selected a black bean and pepper wrap from Katie and Emma's in the MU Student Center for lunch Thursday. Schuster liked that Katie and Emma's used a lot of vegetables.

COLUMBIA — On any given day, an array of chocolate-covered doughnuts, muffins and bagels seems to glow inside a glass display case at the Infusion Cafe in the Student Center. 

Healthy meals are a little harder to find, and calorie counts and nutritional information are not posted on menus. For now, those facts are available only by request from a Student Center manager. 

Tips from a nutritionist

 MU Extension nutritionist Ellen Schuster suggests:

  • Getting more fruits and vegetables into your diet.
  • Asking for whole-grain options, whether it is a hamburger bun, pizza crust or sandwich wrap.
  • Eating slowly, which gives the brain more time to process what is being eaten and to signal to the stomach that you're full.
  • Saving part of your meal to take home and eat later, or splitting it with a friend. 

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After interviewing students during the restaurant design process, Campus Dining decided there were too many differences to accommodate the kind of nutritional information students wanted.

"We choose not to advertise specific items as 'low fat' or 'heart healthy' because our customer base is so broad," Campus Dining marketing manager, Andrew Lough, said. "Each customer has a unique definition of what that means for them." 

But Alan Petersen, manager of Campus Dining Services, said healthy meals can be found among the new restaurants at the Student Center. And changes are on the way that will help students get nutrition information.

"No matter where you go, you will find fruit cups and vegetable cups, so there are options everywhere," Petersen said. "And each restaurant has its own unique, healthier items."

Sometimes, he acknowledged, the healthier options are a little "stealthy."

Ellen Schuster, an MU extension associate state nutrition specialist, spent her lunch hour on a recent weekday navigating the Student Center menus to find healthy meals. She found some options with a few reservations.


Mort's is a grill-style diner that features burgers and breaded chicken. 

When looking at Mort's menu, Schuster first looks at the portion size. She'll avoid a hamburger like the double shack burger because it's a larger portion of meat than people need to eat. 

"The second thing I might be looking at are for some words on the menu that give me some indication of how the food is prepared," Schuster said. 

Though its breaded chicken is made in a pressure cooker, Mort's also offers grilled chicken breast, which lowers its fat grams to approximately 9, Petersen said. 

Turkey burgers are a healthier alternative to hamburgers, but Schuster advises some wariness. 

"Sometimes ground turkey isn't as low in fat as people think," she said. 

The black bean burger might be the best option. People often rely on meats for protein and don't get enough protein from vegetable sources, she said. Another benefit is that the black bean burger is cooked in a toasting oven and broiled without contacting any areas of the machine that beef was cooked on, Petersen said.


Pomodoro offers a variety of pizza and pastas, and neither is necessarily a healthy option. But the pizza is cooked on a stone deck oven rather than as a pan pizza, which often adds fat grams. 

"Those (pan pizzas) have an oil-based coating on the pan so that you're just adding fat grams to the crust," Petersen said. 

Petersen said that in addition to cooking with a stone deck oven, Pomodoro recently decided to use whole grain pastas in some dishes. While the ravioli is still standard  pasta, whole-grain pasta is now used for the spaghetti and penne. 

Once again, Schuster recommends thinking about portions when eating at Pomodoro. The question, Schuster said, is: "Do I really need two slices of pizza, or one slice and a salad?"

When deciding on a sauce to top the freshly made pasta, consider marinara sauce,  which will contribute to the daily vegetable intake. Schuster points out that Alfredo sauce is higher in fat. 

A good meal at Pomodoro would be pasta with some variety of vegetables, marinara sauce and a side salad. 

Sunshine Sushi

Sushi is a good option to curb hunger pangs because people usually don't get enough fish in their diet, Schuster said.

Another benefit of sushi is the predetermined portion size.

"I think the nice thing about sushi is that the portions are small, so you aren't over-eating," Schuster said. 

But, Schuster warns to be aware that sauces can add extra calories and sugar. Soy sauce adds a lot of salt to an item. Also, ask for brown rice as a substitute for white, when possible, she advises. 

Infusion Cafe

Although an assortment of baked goods and pastries fills the display case at Infusion, there are several healthy options. 

There are fresh fruit and vegetable cups, yogurt and soy milk. Infusion's drink menu is expansive, listing teas, coffees and fruit smoothies. The smoothies, which are popular, contain whole fruit and sorbet, nonfat frozen yogurt or nonfat vanilla ice cream.

While smoothies can be a good source of fruit, regular, unadorned fruit is usually the best bet, Schuster said. 

"Unfortunately, we get a lot of calories from liquid beverages," she said. "The only problem is that smoothies don't really fill you up. Obviously, if you eat a whole peach, it has the fibers there. You're eating it and chewing it, so it's going to fill you up."

When drinking flavored drinks, Schuster recommends using cinnamon or cocoa powder rather than flavored syrups. 

"Those are great ways to add flavor and sweetness to your drink and not add a lot of calories like the syrups," Schuster said. 

If you must indulge in a bread or pastry, it might be reassuring to know the cafe tries to control ingredients and portions. 

"Although we have baked goods and things like donuts that are somewhat decadent, some of those things are controlled by portion size," Petersen said.

He pointed out that the donuts "are not too large." And they're made in-house, along with the other pastries and breads at Infusion, so they contain fewer preservatives and fats.

Still, yogurt, a fruit cup and half a bagel would be a nutritionally smart way to start the day, Schuster said. 

Kate & Emma's

The deli offers a variety of salads, soups, sandwiches and wraps. The turkey chowder soup is made from scratch, along with the sauces. 

Even though the sauces are made in-house, Schuster still recommends asking for all sauces on the side to control amount. 

The chicken and pear, red pepper, and mushroom and black bean wraps all make the cut for a healthy lunch, Schuster said. She also suggests trying to add more vegetables to the wraps and asking for whole wheat options.

Do Mundo's Churrascaria

Do Mundo's Churrascaria features Brazilian, Midwestern and Hawaiian barbecue. 

Nearly all the sauces, marinades and rubs are made from scratch, along with the mashed potatoes, which are made with Yukon gold potatoes, Petersen said.

Do Mundo's also offers Huli vegetable and skinless chicken skewers made to order. Smoked turkey breast and lean beef from a sirloin roast are also offered as leaner meat options. 

Schuster said to be aware of whether the mashed potatoes are prepared with butter or some other kind of fat. Baked potatoes would be a better option, if available.

Changes coming

The bottom line? Schuster didn't struggle to find healthy options but would welcome more of them and more information about nutritional content.

"Having available nutrition information about menu options would help make the healthy choice the easy choice," Schuster said.


To make healthy alternatives and nutrition information available, Campus Dining is working on an online tool called NetNutrition that will give customers access to all Student Center menus, see nutrition information for whole meals or individual items, and build a virtual meal, Lough said. 

That's probably not enough, though. Schuster said posting information online won't help the customer who's looking at menus, trying to count calories, fat or sodium. She said customers make different purchasing decisions when the nutrition information is available when they're making the purchase.

The website should be launched by the fall of 2011. 

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