New app encourages healthy eating at Penn State, in State College

Jennifer Swistock is developing an app called Undressed Foods May 21, 2015. The app will provide nutrition information for the food and drinks at restaurants at Penn State and in State College.
Jennifer Swistock is developing an app called Undressed Foods May 21, 2015. The app will provide nutrition information for the food and drinks at restaurants at Penn State and in State College. CDT photo

Jennifer Swistock prefers to eat clean.

During the past three years, however, she often sacrificed healthy habits for the greater good.

Swistock developed Undressed Foods, a smartphone app set to launch by June that provides nutritional values for eating healthy at Penn State and the surrounding community. The app gives users general guidelines for cooking on their own in addition to eating on or off campus at 146 restaurants and bars, including everything on campus from the HUB-Robeson Center to Beaver Stadium to eateries off campus such as The Corner Room and The Waffle Shop.

She hopes the app will encourage healthier decision-making when people, particularly students, go out to eat and shop in the grocery store.

“I’m a Penn State graduate and I’ve always been interested in nutrition,” Swistock said. “I’ve worked in the food industry, and I’ve always wanted to do something like this, especially for students making that transition from high school to college. I’ve always been been anxious to do things I’m passionate about.”

Passion was needed for this venture.

Add a pinch of patience and perseverance, too.

Swistock poked and prodded managers and servers at eateries around the community and ordered copious amounts of food to take home, weigh on a scale and determine nutritional values.

“I handled it by doing a week or two on campus and then going out on the town,” she said. “When my fast food intake was up I definitely felt off, but what makes this different from other nutritional apps out there is that this is customized to State College, and it’s a clear experience for users. It’s obvious we’ve eaten at these restaurants. I really went to great lengths to ensure our accuracy.”

She then had to crunch numbers and put them into the app, which she can edit when restaurants close and open or adjust menus.

“There was an overwhelming amount of content,” Swistock said. “I had this idea and was confident I could get it all done, but I may have initially underestimated how much work it’d be. It’s been worth it.”

Swistock went to some local eateries hoping for correspondence — not all restaurants knew what she was up to — at times being ignored and sometimes being welcomed.

Establishments such as the Green Bowl and McLanahan’s Downtown Market were happy to help.

“We’ve always been really upfront about the food we serve,” Green Bowl co-owner Marley Wong said. “It’s just second nature, so I think when she first came in we probably didn’t realize what was happening. Once we learned more we definitely appreciated what she’s doing, because we understand the importance and value in being aware of what we’re eating.”

“We’re just friendly,” McLanahan’s general manager Jim French said. “We help Penn State people with their projects if someone comes in. We help VideoMining, and they do customer counts. Healthy eating is a trend that’s taken hold in this area. If we can help promote more educated decisions, that’s also a role we’ll play.”

Buying clean, local produce and cooking from home is encouraged through the app.

“It saves money, No. 1,” Swistock said. “No. 2, it has all the directions for putting together a healthy meal with a few ingredients. The meals are easy to assemble and take into account that you might not have much cooking apparatus, so we kept it easy and inexpensive.”

There are healthy local plates galore, however, when you go out to eat.

“At restaurants I order lean protein dishes with veggies and whole grains, and when I eat less nutritious food I try to eat smaller portions,” Swistock said. “If I want a burger and ice cream I go to Baby’s Burgers and Shakes and get a Wimpy burger and a Teeny Weeny sundae, or I order a burger in a lettuce wrap instead of on a bun. I order my tacos a la carte instead of as a combo. I stick with one slice of pizza instead of three.”

Swistock plans to expand the app to other universities, but for now is focused on State College.

And maybe eating in more often.

“I’ve really enjoyed the process of creating the content for the app, but at this point I’m ready for a reprieve,” she said. “I am really looking forward to cooking dinner for myself and my friends again.”