Everybody eats. And with spring break around the corner, Grand River Avenue is packed with people preparing for their body’s first half-naked public appearance in six months. Those two facts are not so easily reconcilable, especially when off-campus menu choices consist of greasy burgers, big bowls of pasta and delicious desserts. So that’s why I set out on a mission to find the healthiest choices. Here are the results of my extremely unscientific (and delectable) study. It\’s your guide to healthy eating on the main drag.
[1]2:10 p.m.: Charlie Kang’s: I heard the sound of food being stir-fried as soon as I opened the front door, and it smelled so great, I almost didn’t care what was healthy. Part owner and manager Amy Kang said while she didn’t have nutrition facts to provide me with, she could make me a dish of vegetarian Bibimbop – a combination of rice, spinach, bean sprouts, carrots and zucchini with optional eggs and tofu. Kang and I sat down at one of the many burgundy booth tables at Charlie Kang\’s and described the menu. She said they stir fry all of their dishes and only use vegetable oil.
“We accommodate people who would like their dishes with no sauces or prefer to have everything steamed to make it healthier,” said Kang.
Charlie Kang’s doesn’t have a special low calorie or low carbohydrate menu, but they do have a wide selection of “meats” such as chicken, beef and seafood and a variety of fresh vegetables.
My advice for Charlie Kang’s: Order chicken with broccoli over rice, without added sauce. It’s a good mix of protein, vegetables and some healthy, energy-providing carbohydrates (for those who plan on running a pre-spring break marathon).
2:25 p.m.: Noodles and Company: This Grand River rookie seems to be going strong. It was crowded on a Saturday afternoon with college kids, families with children devouring macaroni and cheese and even what looked like a small business meeting. Although many people were ordering the giant cookies, I knew there was more to Noodle’s and Co. than mac n’cheese and baked goods. Before going here I had looked up all of the nutrition facts online. They have three noodle dishes under 500 calories: chicken noodle soup with 290 calories, Thai curry soup with 350 calories and tomato marinara (without the beloved parmesan cheese, of course) with 480 calories. Noodles and Co. has a variety of tasty sounding salads and if you get them with light or fat free dressing, they can be listed in the healthy category. The Chinese chop salad with fat free Asian dressing and no wontons only has two grams of fat. Noodles and Co. also has a low carbohydrate menu featuring many of their salads along with some noodle-less selections like, shrimp curry sauté and sweet chili chicken. Whole grain fettuccini can be substituted for the noodles in any dish also.
My advice for Noodles and Co.: My personal favorite food is spaghetti, so I would choose the tomato marinara with whole grain fettuccini.
[2]2:35 p.m.: Woody’s Oasis Bar and Grill: The relaxed, tropical atmosphere of Woody’s invited me right in, not to mention the huge selection of alcohol at the bar. An older couple was sitting at the bar for afternoon drinks when I began asking bartender and manager Sam Romero to describe the menu. He said everything at Woody’s is baked, not fried and they have a lot of fresh foods. He said they have vegetarian sandwiches, salads, soups and hummus. All meal combos include a choice of salad and original hummus. Woody’s specializes in Mediterranean cuisine, which is typically considered a healthy diet. Among Woody’s most popular items are their many flavors of hummus, a dish made of pureed chickpeas, lemon juice, oil, sesame seed paste (tahini) and garlic. They have original, spicy, garlic scallion and pine nut flavored hummus, usually served with pita bread.
My advice for Woody’s Oasis Bar and Grill: I would pick the garlic chicken wrap and hummus with pita bread. They do give pretty large portions at Woody’s so you may be able to take some home, or share with a friend.
2:50 p.m.: Pita Pit: Pita Pit has a slogan promoting “fresh thinking healthy eating” so I was sure I could find something good here. The menu even features personified lettuce and tomatoes; only a healthy place would have vegetables with faces on the menu. Pita Pit even has a calorie counter on the website which allows you to customize a pita and see the amount of calories it really has, including the cheese and extra ranch dressing you may request.
I attempted to build the highest and lowest calorie and fat subs I could possibly make on the website. I chose a pita with turkey, lettuce, tomatoes, onions, pickles and mustard and the grand total was 395 calories and 3.3 grams of fat. This is the lowest calorie pita I could make, unless I was to get a vegetarian one. The gyros pita with feta cheese, lettuce, tomatoes cucumber, olives and ranch dressing came up to 724 calories and 40 grams of fat. While these are the two extremes, there are many in between and they can fluctuate depending on the extras you want on them like hummus or Caesar dressing.
[3]Pita Pit employee John Skodak said the chicken Caesar pita is probably the most popular, though he’s not too sure if it’s the healthiest choice. I’d have to agree with him there, Caesar dressing and cheese add a lot of fat and calories to an otherwise healthy choice.
My advice for Pita Pit: Stick to the turkey or chicken, lots of veggies and try to choose a lower calorie sauce like mustard or light mayo.
3:00 p.m.: Cosi: The comfy chairs and modern design of Cosi made me want to sit there all day and read a book, but my quest for healthy food kept me going. On first impression, Cosi seems to be a healthy spot with tons of sandwiches, soups and salads. True, they do have a wide selection of foods that have healthy associations, but don’t be fooled, spring breakers, it’s not all healthy! The tuna melt at Cosi has 1,012 calories and 60 grams of fat and all of their pizzas have over 1,000 calories, about 730 grams of carbohydrates and (brace yourself) 92 grams of fat!
[4]And while I’m scaring you with the facts on the “health foods” you’ve been getting at Cosi, the Double Oh! Arctic in the gigantic size has 1,033 calories and 35 grams of fat. But don’t worry, Cosi is not off limits. The Turkey Light sandwich only has 476 calories and nine grams of fat, they have a variety of salads that can be ordered with fat free balsamic vinaigrette. All of the soups at Cosi, except for clam chowder and gumbo, are under 300 calories and less than 10 grams of fat. The chicken noodle soup is a very popular option, but the Cosi bread that comes on the side has 265 calories.
My advice for Cosi: AVOID THE TUNA MELT!!! Order the turkey light, chicken noodle soup or any of the salads with the fat free dressing.
[5]3:15 p.m.: Melting Moments: The place to go for creamy campus comfort food, but not my idea of a healthy spot. Melting Moments definitely wasn’t lined up out the door, but I’ll blame that on the freezing cold temperatures and those who have boycotted ice cream until after spring break. Much to my surprise, they do have some healthy options. There are eight flavors of ices, which are dairy free, similar to sorbet and yogurt made with low fat dairy products. Maddy Kamalay, employee at Melting Moments, said the coffee Oreo yogurt and chocolate peanut butter yogurt are the most popular picks. She also said they have chocolate covered bananas.
My Advice for Melting Moments: The biggest banana split you can order…just kidding! For a treat, an ice is probably the best bet because of its low fat content, but there is a lot of sugar in it, so beware!
3:25 p.m.: The Parlor: The “old-fashioned diner” atmosphere of The Parlor just calls for a cheeseburger and a milkshake. In my mind this is a great place to go for greasy burgers, pizza and too many ice cream scoops to count, but even The Parlor has something to offer those looking to eat with a healthy conscious before spring break.
They have a grilled chicken sandwich and many salads that can be ordered with fat free Italian dressing, raspberry vinaigrette or light tomato basil dressing. The broth-based soups are another healthy choice or the Lite Delight, which is tuna salad over iceberg lettuce. The Parlor, known around campus for the ice cream eating challenge, does have orange, rainbow and raspberry sherbet, chocolate and vanilla frozen yogurt and sugar-free butter pecan, fudge, ripple and vanilla ice creams. Ten-year-old Tayanna Thomas of Lansing was enjoying her orange sherbet, and said she ordered it because it was good and healthier than the other ice creams on the menu. (If the kids can do it, so can we!)
My Advice for The Parlor: Any of the salads without extras like bacon or croutons and definitely ordered with the light or fat free dressings. If you really need a sweet treat I would recommend anything from the sugar free, sherbet or yogurt menus.
[6]3:35 p.m.: Big Ten Burrito: Sports on a flat screen TV, one long table for all diners to sit together…and giant burritos – sounds like a college student\’s dream.
BTB is another newcomer on Grand River. At this place, how healthy you want your meal to be is all up to you. Burritos are not your usual health food, but with a little help from cashier Ryan Podvin and delivery guy Jeff Brown, I was able to pick out some healthier choices on the cheese and sour cream loaded menu. Podvin said Big Ten Burrito offers whole wheat burritos and a lot of people request them. He said they have low fat cheese and sour cream and a variety of fresh vegetables. BTB also has beans and salsa, a healthy addition to any burrito or salad. Podvin and Brown quickly prepared me an “example” salad with lettuce, low-fat cheese and tomatoes. I had them add a little guacamole for a dose of the healthy kind of fat. They added a side of beans and informed me that I could have grilled chicken added to my salad. Podvin said BTB has vegetarian quesadillas and also serves breakfast burritos on the weekends complete with eggs, low fat cheese and salsa.
My Advice for Big Ten Burrito: First, go there when Podvin and Brown are working for some humorous health tips for your burrito and second, order a whole wheat burrito loaded with vegetables, grilled chicken, a little bit of low fat cheese and salsa.
3:50 p.m.: Breugger’s Bagels: The smell of fresh bread baking and the wall filled with baskets of bagels made me love this place from the second I walked in. A few customers were finishing their bagel sandwiches just before closing on Saturday afternoon, but I, being the researcher I am, knew they weren’t eating as healthy as it might have looked. Before going to Breugger’s I looked at the nutrition facts online and it’s not the healthy café you might expect. The bagels and cream cheese are loaded with fat, calories and carbs, as are the muffins. They do have broth based soups that are consistently a healthy choice at most restaurants and they offer a whole wheat bagel. They have salads, and like most places, ordering them with a vinaigrette dressing can classify them as pretty healthy. Breugger’s also has whole wheat wraps and fresh fruit.
My Advice for Breugger’s: The bagels are large and you might be satisfied with just eating half. Order the Herby Turkey, it has 580 calories and has the typical turkey, lettuce, tomato combo all on your choice of bagel (hint: pick whole wheat).
4:15 p.m.: The Peanut Barrel: I walked in and the smell of beer and sound of shells crunching under my feet set the tone of this casual place as the quintessential “college” bar. Almost every table was filled with hungry people watching sports and eating sandwiches. The “barrel” is a local favorite, but not where most go when trying to eat healthy.
[7]Diane Weber, a server at The Peanut Barrel said they do have whole wheat bread, grilled chicken and turkey sandwiches, soups, a garden burger and a veggie roll-up. Although they don’t serve light mayo or light dressings with their healthier selections, they do have good old, calorie free mustard! The Peanut Barrel really does have a selection of healthier foods, but the problem was that no one in the whole restaurant on Saturday afternoon was eating them. I did talk to a table of freshmen guys who said they weren’t concerned with health but they all really enjoyed their burgers. Mike Raniszski said his rodeo burger was great and he described it to me in full detail. “It has the meat, with bacon on top and then cheese. And I added my own mayo and ketchup,” he said. Not really what I was looking for that day, but interesting either way.
My advice for Peanut Barrel: Although the burgers got rave reviews, a healthier choice would be a grilled turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with mustard. Boring, but healthy nonetheless.
5:00 p.m.: Jersey Giant: Greeted with the smell of fresh bread that I love, and the face of a smiling sandwich maker, I told Jersey Giant employee Michelle Schnake that I was looking for some healthy foods. She laughed and said, “Nothing is really healthy here.” After searching the menu I saw they do have turkey and vegetables, all components of a healthy, yet very repetitive sandwich. Just as I was getting ready to leave Schnake added, “We do have whole wheat subs now!” Amy Foran, an on-again off-again MSU student was eating Jersey Giant for the first time on Saturday afternoon and gave the whole wheat sub two thumbs up.
My Advice for Jersey Giant: Order another boring sub on whole wheat bread with turkey, lettuce, tomato and mustard. OK fine, I’ll let you have some cheese on this one.
[8]5:10 p.m.: Flat’s Grill: Welcomed by a friendly staff and owner Paul O’Connor who was busy putting together fresh fruit kabobs for a special event, I thought it had to be a healthy place. The colorful décor at Flat’s can brighten a day as will the variety of smoothies on the menu. A Flat is a grilled tortilla similar to a quesadilla, topped with cheese, vegetables and a variety of other options. Flat’s has low-fat cheese and many soups. They have a few salads, which one employee said were healthy, unless you eat the deep fried bowl made out of a tortilla.
My Advice for Flat’s: I say splurge on a Flat because I hear they are great. Just remember to order the low fat cheese and a lot of veggies.
[9]5:25 p.m.: Q Sushi: Don’t be afraid, for those of you who quit reading when you saw the word “sushi,” they do have other things. Q Sushi has Korean and Japanese dishes, along with sushi. A quiet, well-lit restaurant, Q Sushi had a few people eating and doing work at the same time. Part owner of Q Sushi, James Hong, said until you taste sushi you never know how good it really is. Hong said the most popular menu item is the Dragon Roll which consists of shrimp tempura roll, eel, avocado and eel sauce. Hong was busy preparing dinner for someone he said is one of his best customers, Eric Jenks. “I try something different every time, but I come here because it\’s good food and it’s really healthy,” said Jenks. On Saturday, Jenks ordered octopus nigiri, which is a small piece of octopus wrapped in rice, and tuna and salmon rolls, both wrapped in rice.
My advice for Q Sushi: TRY IT! If you are a sushi lover it’s a great chance to eat a healthy meal and if you aren’t then it’s time to expand your horizons. I was told that a very “non-sushi-like sushi” is the California roll, which has crabmeat and avocado wrapped in rice.
5:45 p.m.: Bubble Island: Bubble Island has a tropical feel to it with large suede couches and chairs and free wireless Internet. It’s a great place to have a drink and study, if you don’t mind loud music. Bubble Island serves teas, coffees and smoothies. While tea is naturally calorie free, adding black bubbles and Oreo cookies to your drink will change that in a hurry. There are so many possibilities of extras to add to the drinks there, it can get confusing. Black bubbles are larger black versions of what is found in tapioca pudding. The colored bubbles are a little sweeter than the black and lychee jellies are a grape flavor. The rainbow bubbles are a fruity flavor and mango stars are made from mangos (I know, obviously).
New to the menu are the calorie free “lite” green tea and the “lite” milk tea made with fat free milk and Splenda sweetener. You can add flavor shots for very few calories, but the black bubbles are 50 calories for one tablespoon (there are more than 1 tablespoon of bubbles in each drink.) Bubble Island uses non-fat yogurt in all of their smoothies, but they don’t take it easy on the sugar. MSU packaging senior Kristin Mooney said the most popular drink is probably the milk tea with taro flavoring (almost tastes like chocolate) and black bubbles.
[10]My advice for Bubble Island: I would recommend the “lite” green tea or “lite” milk tea with taro flavoring, and definitely splurge for the black bubbles every once in a while. (I could be a walking advertisement for the latter drink. I love it!)
Bubble Island was the last stop on my healthy tour of Grand River. I left with a feeling of satisfaction, knowing that I can pick anyplace downtown and get a healthy meal, that is, if I really want to seek it out. Temptation may be hard to avoid as a picture of a huge burger is staring me in the face, but it’s my choice to make. This study has proven that it’s not impossible for anyone to find healthy eats off campus, even on Grand River. But that doesn’t mean I won’t splurge every now and then when the burger on the wall wins the staring contest.
Now that I’ve done the footwork, it’s up to you for the rest. Happy (healthy) eating.

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