By: Julie Henderson
One thing that I have learned during my dietetic internship is to go into each new experience with a smile, and an open mind. Each rotation within the dietetic internship is a new hands-on experience and you don’t know what to expect. Many times, it is up to you to make the experience the best it can be. This was especially true as I entered my rotation at The University of Maryland (UMD) Dining Services. Food service had not been high on my dietetic career plan throughout my education. I always aspired to be a clinical nutrition dietitian. I believe this is one of the reasons we are required to complete an internship program, to expose us to a variety of possible options and helps us determine which path is the right fit.
I was happy to have two intern colleagues with whom to share the experiences of this food service rotation. We worked incredibly well together during the three weeks at UMD Dining Services. Thankfully, the UMD dietetic internship allows for the partnering of interns during some of the rotations. On our first day, we were provided with a schedule of activities for the rotation. Many of our days began in the building on campus that housed the South Dining Hall and the dining services staff offices. We started with an allergen certification course to allow us to work in the Purple Kitchen. The Purple Kitchen is an allergen-free kitchen to serve students, staff, and faculty with food allergies/intolerances. It is open to everyone, not just those with allergies. It is located within the North Dining Hall on campus. We were also introduced to the nutrition students and given a list of projects to be completed during our rotation. Many of these included developing infographic materials such as table tents, stall seats for bathroom stalls, and nutritional newsletter information. I enjoyed being creative with these nutrition-related assignments and knowing that they would be shared across campus.
UMD campus is very large, and we were able to be a part of many different experiences across the campus. During this rotation, we visited the North Dining Hall, South Dining Hall, Yahentametsi Dining Hall, and Jones-Hill House. While at the North Dining Hall, we had the opportunity to do an allergen test in the Purple Kitchen. This test was sent to a governing body to ensure that the Purple Kitchen is free from the top nine allergens. While at the South Dining Hall, we met with many staff members to learn the operations of UMD’s independent food service functions. We also provided training to staff in the dish room on the safety of using the pot and pan cleaning chemicals. We were only able to tour the Yahentametsi Dining Hall, but it was a very popular place for the students to eat and had amazing food options for them. Yahentametsi and Jones-Hill House are the newest dining facilities on campus. Jones-Hill House is where the football athletes are taken care of. It was an amazing facility and experience. We spent our downtime in a beautiful room that had huge windows and overlooked the campus including the football field. It made us feel like VIPs. I even interviewed a football player about his opinions on having a dietitian on staff to care for the players. He had a personal experience and was grateful for the dietitian’s assistance with his nutritional health. Having a personal connection to football, I appreciated seeing how well nutrition is emphasized for the football student-athletes including help with individualized proper meal adjustments, lab results, hydration, and strong bone health. However, I would like to see all the athletes at UMD have this opportunity.
The work culture throughout UMD Dining Services was one that shined brightly! The food selections consider the many different cultures within the student population. The interns and I worked with many different chefs throughout the dining halls who introduced us to the many behind-the-scenes food operations. The employees are state employees and seemed very happy with their jobs. The care that goes into feeding the students at UMD is amazing. We were informed that they have made changes to the student meal plans, to better serve their student population and so that no student goes hungry. At one time they were using a point system but now have transitioned to an unlimited or all-you-can-eat style. The UMD Dining Services staff make sure the students’ voices are heard by having a student advocacy group with whom they meet and discuss concerns and needs to include many cultural topics such as Halal. From what I witnessed, the students were pleased with the food options provided on campus. I know I was, as we were allowed to eat lunch in the dining halls and the food was delicious. We had so many options to choose from and I am pretty sure that I gained a couple of pounds during this rotation.
Food service may be a lot of work and may not be a popular path for a dietitian, but working with the staff at UMD Dining Services was rewarding. If a job was available here, I would apply. I had not imagined myself working in food service until this rotation. It was surprising and I think it is because of the independent food service operations and the friendly and happy staff that work at UMD. I could go on and on about the experience; we did so much in such a short time and everyone we met was very kind and welcoming. During our end-of-rotation evaluations, we were told that the staff expressed appreciation for our kindness and being welcoming. I believe this is because we came on board with a smile and an open mind to enjoy and learn from this experience and did just that!