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Student-Made 'Healthy Selections' App Provides Guide to Healthy Eating On Campus

October 21, 2013

Healthy Selections App

It’s easy, in theory, to order something healthy when eating out for lunch. But when the line is moving fast, and all of a sudden it’s your turn to order, there may not be time to consider saturated fat, sodium content and all the other variables at play.

That’s why Drexel’s Office of University Wellness, with the help of former student Nick Pirollo, created a way for health-conscious students, faculty and staff to determine what menu items at campus eateries are safe, with just a few swipes of the thumb.

The new “Healthy Selections” app for the iPhone and the iPad, from the University Wellness “A Healthier U” program, provides an easily accessible guide to eating healthy on University City Campus.

“We all think we know what to eat, but when you get to a restaurant, something that may appear to be a good choice may not be the best choice,” said Victor Tringali, executive director of University Wellness. “So the idea was to eliminate the guesswork.”

The office had already begun putting together a regularly updated guide to healthy campus food options about two years ago, making a list of items high in dietary fiber and low in saturated fat and sodium. The selections were compiled into a paper brochure of “Healthy Selections,” but that didn’t always help when people were already in the ordering line or out on campus looking for somewhere to grab lunch.

That’s how the idea for a smartphone app was born, Tringali said. And it happened thanks to help from Nick Pirollo, a then-senior who met Tringali through the many hours he spent at the Drexel Recreation Center.

Pirollo, a computer and electrical engineering major, had started programming computers when he was 13 and already had experience creating phone apps. A bodybuilder who maintains a strict diet, he also understood the importance and the difficulty of watching what one eats.

“At 10 or 11 o’clock at night, it’s hard to say, ‘I’m going to go to Currito and eat healthy,’” Pirollo said. “But this might make the choice a little easier.”

The free app, now available in the iTunes App Store, lists all the “Healthy Selections”-approved menu items at University-owned or -leased dining locations on the University City Campus. The selections are accessible through a list or through a GPS-enabled map. The app also provides guidelines and tips for healthy eating.

Pirollo, who has since graduated and is working for Vistaprint in Boston, and Tringali both say the app isn’t done yet. Not only will it need to be updated with the new options available at Chestnut Square and other retail outlets that pop up, but both say they’d like the app to develop into a more wide-ranging guide for healthy living, including exercise.

“It could be just a handy guide for people who want to have a more healthy, fitness-minded lifestyle,” Pirollo said.

University Wellness will promote the app at its annual Drexel Food Day on Wednesday, Oct. 23, where samples of some of the campus’s healthy food options will be available. The event will be from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Recreation Center, 33rd and Market streets.