As Cal State Fullerton’s early afternoon classes come to a close, students pour out of Mihaylo Hall and cram into Carl’s Jr. until the line is out the door. Burgers, fries, sodas, chicken nuggets and the occasional cookie are consumed as lunchtime commences.
CSUF has a wide selection of food options available on campus and even more within walking distance. However, with the pressing importance of convenience and cost in college life, it’s easy to overlook how critical a healthy and balanced diet is.
A Western Bacon Cheeseburger and CrissCut fries from Carl’s Jr. contains 1,190 calories, 570 calories from fat and 2,400 milligrams of sodium. This makes up over one half and slightly under one half of the recommended caloric intake recommended for a moderately active female and male college student, respectively, according to a chart by the Center for Nutrition Policy and Promotion.
Panda Express, another popular campus option, serves an order of Kung Pao Chicken and chow mein, totalling up to a more modest 800 calories, 350 calories from fat and 1,830 milligrams of sodium.
While there are healthier alternatives available, some students feel comfortable sticking with Panda Express out of familiarity.
“I’ll look at it, and I’ll know it’s really bad and I probably should be eating something else. I want to eat something else, but there’s not really a lot within close proximity,” said James Duran, second-year business major.
Duran experimented with other restaurants like The Fresh Kitchen in the Titan Student Union, but felt it was “just okay” and not worth frequent trips.
Eduardo Alcaraz, second-year English major, frequents Panda Express as well. He said he wishes there were more vegetarian options, but admits he is naturally hesitant to try new things.
Certain students like Gabriel Camacho, senior finance major, have grown wary of the cost and lack of nutritional value while eating out on campus and have resorted to packing meals from home.
“Around here it’s mostly fast food. Maybe you could get healthy options, but most of what (CSUF) is advertising is burgers,” Camacho said.
The campus offers options that are healthier and cater to multiple diets. The Fresh Kitchen in the TSU has a menu that is almost entirely vegetarian, plant-based or gluten-free. The Habit Burger Grill on Nutwood Avenue sells a veggie burger with the option of substituting a regular bun for wheat. The Habit Burger Grill and Carl’s Jr. will even get rid of the bun altogether and wrap the burger in lettuce if asked.
Nearby Cal State University campuses offer similar options. CSU Long Beach and CSU Los Angeles both have a Carl’s Jr. location while CSU Northridge, CSU San Marcos and San Diego State University have Panda Express.
The menu for the Gastronome alternates from day to day, but it maintains multiple vegan, vegetarian and whole grain options. It also makes future food schedules available online with calorie information and a meal calculator to help students and faculty plan their meals.
Young adults consumed significantly more fast food than adults 30 and older because college-aged students value the convenience of fast food even more than the cost according to a 2012 study by Food and Nutrition Sciences.
College life and fast food are closely interlinked and while the CSUF campus supplies its demand, the school is taking steps to provide more nutritional alternatives as well.