University halls – why food matters

By Professor David Russell, founder and chairman of the Russell Partnership

In last year’s University Business estates issue, we explicated a top-line demand analysis in relation to student food preference for wholesome food within catered halls. As an overview, there was a sufficient call from students to justify a shift in operations from university caterers, with statistics suggesting that students want to eat healthy food, but struggle with elements such as price, convenience and limited university offers. This provides an opportunity for university caterers to implement nutritious, convenient and cost-effective food offers that will nourish students, fulfil demand and ultimately generate return on investment. 

For optimum campus experience, we know it’s imperative to appreciate and implement students’ food preference relative to taste, trends and food sensitivities. However, extending this understanding to recognise why it’s valuable to ensure that nutritious options are at the forefront of catered halls, is the next step in optimising student experience, attainment and overall wellbeing. 

By substituting foods such as white breads, pasta and rice for their wholegrain equivalents, there is opportunity to promote a mutually beneficial outcome for both student and university. Regular consumption of nutrient-dense, low glycemic-load foods have been shown to promote health in a variety of ways. Glycemic load gives a relative indication of how much a particular serving of food is likely to increase blood sugar levels; examples include wholegrain rice, oats, fresh vegetables and certain fruits. Evidence suggests that low GL foods prevent coronary heart disease and increase satiety, which may lead to weight loss and improved control of blood lipids. Furthermore, stabilised blood sugars drive increased concentration which will likely lead to higher attainment for students and an overall superior campus experience, consequently driving positive reputation for the university.

The University of Edinburgh was the first ever ‘Food For The Brain’ University in the UK, achieving this award in 2007, and has been successful with an annual re-assessment every year since. The aim of the award is to promote awareness of the link between learning, behaviour, mental health and nutrition and to promote mental health through optimum nutrition. Similarly, The University of Leeds has been awarded the ‘Food for the Brain’ Nutritional Accreditation for the sixth year in a row. The Great Food at Leeds team was praised for its impressive focus on sustainability, seasonality and provenance of products with 45% of suppliers being within 20 miles of the University. They were also complimented for their expanding range of gluten-free products and continued enthusiasm and commitment to Food for the Brain and healthy eating. More information can be found at 

The slightest changes have the largest impact. Applying incremental, gradual alterations mitigates potential challenges associated with change, and also allows for careful mapping of student inclination towards certain foods which can ultimately be utilised to refine offers based on preference. 

University halls have the power to facilitate a greener lifestyle for students throughout the campus. Please believe the power is in your hands to influence an entire generation’s health and wellbeing.


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