NAU students who get their next meal from a drive-through window or ramen cup are not only affecting their health, they’re impacting their classroom performance as well.

More than 700 students who reside on the Flagstaff campus do not have meal plans, yet they demonstrate financial need and qualify for Pell grants. To change the trend of poor nutrition, Northern Arizona University and its partner, Sodexo, have created a Dining Scholarship that will provide these students with healthful meals.

Ten undergraduate students were selected this spring for the first Dining Scholarship award that provides each 14 meals per week. The scholarship will give students more nutritious options, a step toward improving brain function and boosting student success.

“Eating well can benefit nearly every aspect of a student’s college experience,” said Jo Cahill, dietitian and health educator for Campus Health Services. “Optimal fuel that provides a balanced variety of foods and nutrients affects energy level, mood, immune function, concentration and ability to handle stress. Being consistently well nourished is likely to enhance a student’s well-being and success in college.”

Yet, many students have limited funds and hectic schedules that may lead them to resort to frequent meals of highly processed fast foods, Cahill said. Fast foods provide flavor and calories, along with large amounts of sodium, refined carbohydrates and fat but very limited amounts of other nutrients found in fruits, vegetables and other nutrient dense foods.

“Eating poorly during college can not only adversely effect well being during college years but may also set up a trend of weight gain and poor nutrition that can lead to chronic health problems later on,” Cahill said.

Sodexo will donate $10,000 per academic year and has committed to matching all gifts to the scholarship received from other donors.

“We hope this will help students by addressing the basic nutritional needs so important to maintaining good health and the energy needed to succeed in educational pursuits,” said Heide Gibson, assistant director of development for NAU.

Donations to the Dining Scholarship may be made online.