Here’s to your health

For four years, Sarah Steinberg ’08 looked forward to reading the menu in the cafeteria, crossing her fingers that the meal of the day would be either macaroni and cheese or orange chicken and rice.

However, when she now walks to the cafeteria, instead of looking at hot entrees or fried food, she is attracted to the sandwich and salad bars where she can fill her plate with more green than grease.

“I used to eat junk food and candy when I was hungry at school because I could never find anything healthy,” Steinberg said. “But now they make custom salads, and I figured out how to eat healthy at school as opposed to not eating at school or eating crap.”

Many upper school students have adopted a healthier route to curb their appetite.
“Maybe it’s because being healthy is really in right now,” Emily Helpern ’07 said.

“Look at all the covers of magazines,” Helpern said. “It’s all about people living healthy instead of dieting.”

Dr. Susie Mandel, an internist whose clients include teenage girls, many of whom attend Harvard-Westlake, has seen this as an increasing trend.

“I think there is far more awareness of nutrition in this generation of teens than I have ever seen before,” Mandel said. “There is no question about that.” 

Students wish to eat healthier either because they are getting older and have realized the importance of being healthy or because of the aesthetic value of looking fit.

It is now easier to achieve this because the upper school cafeteria has replaced unhealthy, high calorie snacks with lower calorie, healthier substitutes.

For example, instead of only serving white rice, brown rice is now offered, which is healthier because it possesses the nutrients that are removed when the rice is unnaturally whitened.

Additionally, the cafeteria has replaced regular Oreos with 160 calories with 100-calorie thin, baked Oreo substitutes, which are healthier because they are devoid of cream and have 60 fewer calories.

Moreover, when a student, in a rush to grab a snack before their class, reaches in the chip rack that was once only filled with Doritos and Cheetos (140 calories in each bag), they can now opt for fruit snacks, dried apples, Soy Crisps and baked chips (90 calories, counting for a 50-calorie difference).

There is also the option of a convenient bag of sliced apples, a container of precut mixed fruits and small tangerines near the check-out.

Each year the cafeteria introduces new food. Until recently, a placard was placed against the window of the sandwich bar, saying “No customized salads.”

But this year, the cafeteria has expanded the salad bar and has allowed students to customize their salads at the sandwich bar, which allows students to choose healthier toppings and dressings.

“They used to only have pre-made salads so I couldn’t choose to not have cheese or oil, but now that we can customize them I can choose to only have lettuce, cheese and balsamic vinaigrette,” Steinberg said.

“They are good and pretty convenient, but the only problem is that the line for the salads is always so long,” Steinberg said.

Salads with protein and a light dressing, which are becoming more popular among students, are very healthy, Mandel said, because “balance is really what is important and so eating a salad is one way to get essential protein and vegetables.”

Students are able to get protein from customized salads because they have the option to put turkey, salami, tuna or chicken on top of their greens.

Some students have adopted a healthier diet for themselves not because they want to but because as they grow older, they realize that the things they eat put their health at risk.

“I’ve always had a pretty fast metabolism, so I grew up believing I could eat anything and it wouldn’t really affect my body,” Sydney Susskind ’07 said.

“It wasn’t until like last year when I went to my yearly checkup that I was told I had unusually high cholesterol for a girl my age. I guess after years of eating bad food that’s what happens, so I decided to just eat a bit healthier, and I actually feel much better.”

Mandel believes that teens have an increased awareness of what they eat because they realize that is affects their future health.

“You are establishing patterns of behavior that will continue into adulthood,” Mandel said. “Kids who have bad behaviors early on tend to carry them into adulthood.”

Nutritionist Ashleay Koff, also thinks that it is important and popular for teenagers to eat healthily because they like the results: the subtle changes in their body and the way they feel throughout a long day of climbing stairs and challenging classes.

“Our food affects our mood and energy so what we eat can make a difference with test scores and athletic performance as well as how we look,” Koff said.

Amanda Epstein ’07 realized this when she institued and followed a healthier lifestyle after an injury sidelined her.

“I tore my ACL last year and since then I have really been working hard to rehab my leg so I could play softball again and be more active,” Amanda Epstein ’07 said.

“When my knee couldn’t handle the daily softball practices, I decided to join a gym and eat healthy. I have really noticed a change in my energy level and I just feel so much better at the end of the day and while I study,” she said. 

Audrius Barzdukas, upper school athletic director, has instituted a “Five Commandments for Healthy Eating” which makes a code for not only athletes, but other students to live by in order to be healthier.

The commandments are to eat breakfast, drink enough water so that your urine is clear, eat more fruits and vegetables, never feel hungry and refuel immediately after exercising.
 
Jeffrey Schwimer ’07, college-bound water polo player, definitely follows this guide and pays attention to what he consumes on the day of a big game. 

“I drink a lot of water and try not to eat as much fried food,” Schwimer said. “I eat a lot of veggies.  It makes me feel a lot better on game days if I have eaten well that day. I can feel the difference.”

Although Barzdukas said he believes it is imperative for athletes to eat the necessary food in order to perform to their utmost potential, he believes it is equally necessary for the average student to eat well, which is why he spearheaded the addition of healthier options in the cafeteria.

“I think there has been an increase in awareness about healthy living and eating at our school and I think the cafeteria has been responsive to this,” Barzdukas said.

Koff also explained that eating healthier without depriving oneself of the foods they like can be really encouraging.

“I do find that when a kid learns to eat healthier they see how much better they feel and that is motivating to them.” Koff said.

“Also, they see how they CAN eat what they want and that feels better because it’s not as restrictive as a diet.”