Taylor Nixt, Maverick alumna, returns to Minnesota State Mankato as Campus Dietitian helping students eat healthy, make wise choices and balance their diet and their lifestyle to be successful. A 2021 BEST Board honoree, Taylor was recognized for her active involvement in Community Engagement particularly in the area of food insecurity on campus. Today, Taylor carries on her mission of holistic health through good nutrition. We visited with Taylor who shares awesome health and nutrition tips and insights for students. As Campus Dietitian, she offers one-on-one counseling on a wide range of health or nutrition-related goals. Taylor also offers individual tours of dining options on campus to help students make good choices that meet their needs and lifestyle.
As the Campus Dietitian, I am available for one-on-one counseling appointments to address any sort of health or nutrition-related goal. If there is a specific dietary requirement, I am here to offer guidance on ways to navigate that on a college campus, specifically within our dining services locations. Other services include one-on-one tours of dining options on campus to discuss making mindful choices as well as educational tabling events that I host either in the Centennial Student Union and the University Dining Center.TAYLOR NIXT
Share something about you and your background (you’re a Maverick!).
I was born and raised in Mankato and graduated from Minnesota State Mankato with my undergraduate degree in Family Consumer Science – Dietetics. I became very connected with the campus community while in my undergraduate degree and was involved in the Student Dietetic and Nutrition Organization, Phi Upsilon Omicron, Dining Services as a Dietetic Intern, and I was passionate about combating food insecurity on campus.
What made you select this career field?
There are many factors that led me to choose dietetics as my career. I was first introduced to the field while taking a biomedical science class as a senior in high school and have really been stuck on it ever sense. This biomedical science class had taken an interdisciplinary team approach to help the patient manage their disease state, and I found this to be very powerful as a future professional to take a more holistic approach for the good of the patient. I also felt that growing up the nutrition education that was offered in school was not very relatable nor comprehensive and I wanted to be a voice of change. In addition, I have always been passionate about food and nutrition and helping people in all aspects of life so it really just clicked and made sense for me to become a Registered Dietitian.
Share resources offered through your office for making healthy (or healthier) food choices among our students.
As the Campus Dietitian, I am available for one-on-one counseling appointments to address any sort of health or nutrition-related goal. These appointments start with an initial consultation and then continue with follow-up appointments as needed. If there is a specific dietary requirement, I am here to offer guidance on ways to navigate that on a college campus, specifically within our dining services locations. Other services include one-on-one tours of dining options on campus to discuss making mindful choices as well as educational tabling events that I host either in the Centennial Student Union and the University Dining Center.
We often hear of the “Freshman 15.” What are some of the immediate diet challenges new students face as they step into college life?
As students step away from home to start college, they face many diet challenges due to limited cooking facilities, busy schedules, and reliance on dining hall options. Now that they are out of the house and perhaps no longer have consistent family meals, it can be very difficult to make healthy eating a priority. Factors like coordinating a busy schedule, learning to cook, academic pressures, social commitments, budget constraints and lack of nutritional knowledge all play a part in how a Freshman decides what and when to eat.
What are some of the common challenges or factors all college students face when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet on campus?
Some of the common challenges that college students face when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet on campus are:
- Limited time to focus on “healthy” meals due to busy schedules
- A dining center that is all you can eat
- Limited cooking facilities and kitchen access in the dorms
- Budget constraints
- Lack of comprehensive nutritional knowledge
- Stress and emotional eating
- Social and peer influences
- Irregular eating patterns
- Lack of access to home-cooked meals
- Alcohol consumption
Many students are on tight budgets. What are some tips for eating healthy on a budget?
If students have a meal plan, I would say my number one tip would be to utilize the most of their meal plan. The Anytime plan is perfect for this because students can go into the dining center unlimited times throughout the day to get balanced meals and snacks. However, if students don’t have a meal plan, my biggest piece of advice would be to plan their meals ahead of time and buy what’s in season. Planning ahead can help prevent buying anything in excess. Buying only what you need can also save quite a bit of money and reduce waste. One thing that I would also like to note is that students should be utilizing the resources that are on campus for them. Minnesota State has both the Maverick Food Pantry and the Campus Cupboard which are available for those on a tight budget which most students are.
College life can be hectic and stressful. What sort of diet tips can you recommend to maintain energy levels and overall well-being?
As the Campus Dietitian, my greatest tip to maintain energy levels and overall well-being is consistent meal and snack times ranging from every 3-4 hours.
How can college students balance treats and junk food? Any suggestions for avoiding unhealthy food temptations?
I would never recommend avoiding foods altogether. Avoidance creates a restrictive mindset, which then leads to overindulgence. My recommendation would be to incorporate a variety of foods from day to day. Ideally, I’d like to see some sort of protein, grain, and fruit/vegetable at every meal but that’s not to say you can’t have any “fun” food with your meals. There is always a time and place for treats and “junk food”. For example, if you like potato chips, you can add them to your plate but also incorporate other foods like protein, fruits and vegetables for a nice balance. This helps you satisfy your cravings and provide satiety while also getting a variety of nutrients.
Energy drinks are popular among college students. What are your thoughts on that?
My current thoughts on this topic would be for students to set a routine to get at least 6-8 hours of sleep each night; however, that is not always possible. My next best recommendation would be to drink coffee or tea as these are natural sources of caffeine without a bunch of additives. When it comes to energy drinks, there are often high amounts of caffeine in these as well as sugar and other additives that are “empty” calories. If someone is going to have an energy drink, I would limit it to one per day or a couple per week.
Are there other diet trends or fads you’ve noticed among our students and how are they impacting student health?
There are all sorts of diets that come in and out of popularity. Currently, I am seeing keto, plant-based, vegan and intermittent fasting being the most trendy diets but that is not to say that there aren’t others. I personally find most diets to be very restrictive and unsustainable. In certain situations, a diet may be needed for someone, but this is very individualized and should be at the discretion of working closely with a trained provider. Diets can also extensively impact people’s social lives, which ultimately negatively impacts the memories and friendships built in college.
Alcohol use is often a common part of college life. How does alcohol consumption affect the nutrition and overall health of a college student?
Alcohol, especially when consumed in excess can lead to the following:
- Nutrient depletion
- Excessive calorie intake
- Disrupted eating patterns
- Impaired decision-making
- Stimulate the appetite
- Sleep disruption
- Social and mental health impact
The general recommendation is one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men.
Are there any specific nutritional concerns for international students? How can they adapt their diets as they adjust to campus and/or local food options?
There definitely are some nutritional concerns when it comes to international students. Oftentimes, the access to traditional foods is very limited due to either not having proper transportation or the financial means to purchase these foods. Mankato doesn’t have very many grocery stores or markets that sell cultural foods. On top of this, international students happen to be just as busy as any other college student, so finding the time to make traditional foods can also be a barrier. As far as navigating this, it would be very individualized, but there are some cultural options like Kosher, Halal and vegan options available in the dining center. Students could also plan ahead in terms of making meals, use the bus, carpool with other students, buy certain traditional foods online, utilize the Maverick Food Pantry and Campus Cupboard, etc. I think having an open mind is the best thing any student can do in this situation; however, it is important for them to continue following their cultural beliefs while doing so.
Food allergies are a concern. How is university dining accommodating students with food allergies?
There are many steps that Minnesota State University takes to ensure students who have food allergies are supported. There is an allergy-friendly station called Simple Servings in the University Dining Center where foods at that station are made without peanuts, tree nuts, crustacean shellfish, soy, wheat, eggs, milk, sesame, and gluten. The only common allergen that is cooked at this station is fish just to vary the protein options. The dining center also lists the top 9 allergens on the menu boards so students with food allergies know what is safe for them to eat. Other steps being taken are that the dining services staff go through food allergy safety training and participate in daily huddles where food allergy questions are asked. There are Gluten-Friendly guides available for both the Mav Ave and Dining Center locations for students with Celiac disease, a wheat allergy, or wheat or gluten intolerance. Students with food allergies, Celiac disease, intolerances, sensitivities, or any dietary need are also requested to set up an appointment with me so that I can provide them with the appropriate resources they need to be safe and sociable on our campus.
How can students identify and address food allergies?
Students can identify and address food allergies by:
- Recognizing the common symptoms of food allergies.
- Keeping a food and symptom diary if allergies are of concern.
- Avoid trigger foods.
- Informing friends, family, roommates and those you are dining with of your food allergies.
- Understanding the risk of cross-contact with food allergens.
- Carrying an Epi-pen with them everywhere they go and knowing how to administer it.
- Reading labels and menu boards thoroughly and asking about ingredients in menu items if unsure.
- Advocate for yourself to ensure safety for all involved.
Food Allergy Research and Education is also a really great resource to learn more about food allergies. Learn more here: https://www.foodallergy.org/living-food-allergies
How can students navigate social situations and stay true to their dietary restrictions?
Students should embrace their dietary restrictions confidently and without apology. It makes up who they are as a person and true friends will understand and support their choices. With the dining center having so many options, there is always an option for students on campus. They can also mix and match food items from each station to meet their needs. When comfortable, students can use social situations as an opportunity to educate others about thier dietary restrictions which can help foster understanding and empathy. If students are struggling with this, they can always reach out to me, their Campus Dietitian for support.
How can parents of college students help or support healthy eating habits?
I think there is a fine balance when it comes to parents supporting their students while they are away at college. The two biggest things a parent could ever do for their child is lead by example and consistently expose their children to a variety of foods, including fruits and vegetables. More relevant however, parents can educate and encourage their child to consume protein, grains, fruits, and vegetables at their meals. They can do this by teaching them the skills of how to cook, meal plan, and grocery shop. Then, if it is financially feasible, providing their children with the proper cooking supplies as well as groceries and snacks here and there can help increase the likelihood of developing healthy eating habits.