It was 4 p.m. on the first day of spring quarter. Instead of being inside my cool dorm room after a tiring day of back to back classes, I was standing in the middle of the Sunset Village patio frantically checking the nutritional analysis of the food options available at the quick-serve restaurants while trying to ignore the embarrassingly loud hunger growls of my stomach and the hot sun on my neck.
Back-to-back classes with no lunch breaks and a desire to stay healthy and avoid the grease minefield of Cafe 1919 had brought me to this all-too-familiar conundrum that many students – whether being health-conscious or having dietary restrictions – with skewed schedules face.
While dining halls Bruin Plate and, to some extent, Covel, make it easier for Bruins to have a healthy diet, students don’t always have the luxury of eating at dining halls and can sometimes only grab meals to go at quick-serve restaurants because of schedules that clash with the rigidly set meal times at dining halls.
However, there is an acute disparity between dining halls and quick-serve in terms of the quantity and quality of the food served. Quick-serve restaurants don’t validate UCLA’s claim of having the best dining service in the country because of the lack of nutritious food and the lack of gluten-, lactose- and nut-free options.
The majority of food options at these restaurants have calories – units of energy that can be derived from fat, carbs or protein – that exceed the recommended lunch intake for simple weight maintenance which is about 565 calories for the average women and 735 calories for the average male.
Take for example Bruin Café, which is a student favorite
Out of the 17 sandwich options available at Bruin Café, only three sandwiches – vegan BBQ, greek chicken and greek vegetable – have a calorific value of fewer than 500 calories. All other sandwiches have an average calorific value of about 770 calories with two sandwiches – honey mustard chicken bacon and roasted turkey provolone – crossing the 1000-calorie mark. The Bruin Café on-the-go menu also only has three options out of the 20 available that have a calorific value of fewer than 500 calories.
The lunch and dinner specials, though somewhat redeemable in terms of calorific value, only have a single meal – the buffalo chicken wings available on Fridays – that is suitable for students with gluten allergies.
But while there are a few sparse options that may have a reasonable amount of calories, it’s also important to understand that calories themselves are just one aspect of nutrition. A calorie derived from protein is very different from a calorie derived from fat. Simply put, calories from different sources will be processed differently by our body depending on the role that the macronutrient plays in our body functions.
For example, a calorie from carbs would be processed by our body to replenish our energy sources while a calorie from protein would be used for muscle repair. Therefore, it’s very important to know not just how many calories we are consuming but also know which macronutrients those calories are coming from.
All macronutrients are important but we also have to consume them proportionally. Most quick-serve options, even those with a lower calorie count, have a disproportionate distribution of calories across macronutrients and usually tend to derive most of their energy from fat and carbs.
Grabbing lunch at a quick-serve restaurant often means that students have to balance this disproportionate intake of fat and carbs at lunch with a protein heavy meal at dinner which can be an inconvenience to people with allergies or dietary restrictions.
And in this conversation of proportionate fat intake, dare I mention Rendezvous?
Every Bruin on the hill knows the sick feeling that kicks in 20 minutes after eating a meal at Rendezvous West. The nutritional analysis of the combos there read like a nightmare for many health-conscious students and searching for a semi-healthy option on the menu can induce headaches. Rendezvous East, though tame when compared to its west counterpart, has food with high levels of sodium that come with their own set of health problems.
And while fat and sodium galore appear across quick-serve restaurant menus, there is a marked lack of gluten-free and lactose-free options. These options are a necessity for students with health-related dietary restrictions like gluten allergies – a necessity that while accounted for in dining halls through the gluten-free pantry at Bruin Plate, is painfully absent in quick-serve restaurants.
Mind you, The Study at Hedrick does offer a pantry section but the only items that this pantry holds are a paltry selection of cereals and unsatisfying snacks. The pantry section of the Study, however, is not the only disappointment of the latest addition to UCLA’s quick serve franchise.
The Study itself is a cornucopia of missed opportunities because what could have been a quick-serve version of Bruin Plate, which could account for allergy related dietary restrictions, is now just a sad amalgamation of De Neve Grab ‘n’ Go, Cafe 1919 and Bruin Café, with students still showing a strong preference for the original versions.
Quick-serve restaurants may be good for the occasional bite but eating lunch from them every day can leave a literal bad taste in your mouth. UCLA has shown its potential to provide nutritious yet tasty food with the introduction of Bruin Plate and the marked improvements in Covel’s offerings. It’s high time that it does the same with its quick-serve options.