Serving Students’ Bellies and Brains

By: Samantha TenEyck

Colleges and universities across the nation strive to offer quality, sustainable and healthful foods to students dining on campus. From what I have seen, many university students feed on convenience, the latest food trends and transparency regarding the freshness, nutritional content and ingredient origin of what they are consuming. As many dining services transition their facilities to create memorable, innovative experiences for their students, the increasing interest surrounding health, environmental issues and nutrition must be integrated as well. During the internship, I was lucky enough to get a “behind the scenes” view of how this is made possible through the efforts of University of Maryland (UMD) Dining Services and Sustainability.

My first exposure to the University of Maryland’s dining services was in the Fall when my partner, Cristen, and I completed our two-week rotation with University of Maryland Office of Sustainability. This rotation allowed me to learn about the dining hall menus, where campus food is sourced from and the Menus of Change initiative that UMD Dining and Sustainability is working to implement. The Menus of Change (MOC) University Research Collaborative, an extension of Menus of Change initiative, was created by Harvard and the Culinary Institute of America to promote an increasingly plant-based, diverse menu with ingredients sourced and prepared in a sustainable manner.  Having these experiences in the back of our minds, Cristen and I were excited and curious to see how campus dining executes MOC, all while ensuring students are enjoying their dining experience, and the operation makes a profit.

At University of Maryland, campus dining has become a powerful recruiting tool through their “anytime dining” plan, which permits students to enter the dining hall as many times a day as they would like. This plan has allowed campus dining to reduce costs and food waste, all while supporting the idea that the dining experience should allow students to expand their sense of knowledge, culture and community. For our projects, we used marketing techniques marketing techniques to encourage students to try new foods, educating them about where it comes from and why they should try it. Our goal was to provide this information in a convenient, eye catching manner, so that students could absorb the importance of key health and wellness topics.

As we entered our rotation with campus dining, Sister Schrimpe, the UMD dining quality coordinator and nutritionist, provided Cristen and me with a list of objectives we were to complete over a three-week time period, including a variety of marketing materials. Cristen and I focused on creating table tents, posters, articles, blogs and “Know Your Nutrition” wellness walls that projected general nutrition information to the students, as well as the UMD Dining faculty and staff. We decided to use a springtime theme for our wellness walls, with different sub themes including opening day, spring cleaning and a spring picnic. Each wellness wall included a weekly recipe, cooking tip, nutrition tip and exercise tip in both English and Spanish for students, faculty and staff in South Dining.             

Creating marketing materials for dining services allowed Cristen and me to distribute nutrition knowledge in a manner than would be visually appealing, interesting and understandable for individuals of all academic backgrounds and literacy levels. It was very encouraging to see people stopping by the boards to take a copy of a trail mix recipe or enjoying their meal while reading a table tent about the importance of minerals in the diet. In addition to creating marketing materials, Sister Schrimpe also connected Cristen and me with many of the “behind the scenes” professionals. We met with the senior Graphic Designer, Director of Human Resources, Director of Dining Services, Director of Finance and the dining halls Kitchen Managers, who provided us with valuable information regarding what they do to keep dining services running smoothly. We assisted the kitchen managers by working on the line during lunch shifts, checking items into the warehouse and transporting them to the dry storage and freezer. Meeting with each of the Director’s allowed Cristen and me to understand the processes and procedures in place to adequately operate the kitchen, marketing and finance offices.

As a component of the campus dining rotation, Sister Schrimpe has interns create a final vegan meal to present to faculty and staff. Sticking to our springtime theme, Cristen and I crafted a vegan-friendly picnic meal consisting of a green goddess sandwich, asparagus with cream sauce, macaroni salad and s’mores bars. On the morning of our final presentation, Cristen and I met Chef George in 251 North, one of the three campus dining halls. We gathered our materials and began washing, cutting and preparing the base vegetables for our sandwiches and macaroni salad.

Personally, my favorite item to create on our menu were the s’mores bars, which consisted of a homemade granola crust, topped with a non-dairy chocolate ganache and vegan marshmallows. Once our meal was completed, we set up the dining room to mimic a family-style picnic. Many of the faculty and staff thoroughly enjoyed our meal, even taking seconds of the vegan goodies!

As my time at campus dining came to an end, it became clear to me how valuable providing nutrition information to young adults at colleges and universities truly is. As a future dietitian, my hope is for college students to continue utilizing nutrition resources and incorporating aspects of health and wellness into their daily lives.

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