News Date: 

Source: The Red and Black

By Erica Techo on April 18, 2012

Specific nutrition standards are set by the United States Department of Agriculture for public elementary, middle and high schools, but not for college dining services.

Despite a lack of specific dietary guidelines, the University’s food services seek to provide a variety of healthy options to meal plan patrons.

Nutrition requirements are stricter for elementary school children, but these standards become slightly broader through middle and high school. Food options may grow for children as they progress through grade school, but the scope of food choices jumps greatly on the college meal plan—like at the University.

Bryan Varin, Chef and assistant director of the University’s food services, said it is a goal to provide "healthful" options for students on the meal plan despite a lack of set regulations.

“We want to focus on offering as much variety and choice as we can to our meal plan patrons; this includes offering nutritious and healthful options,” Varin said. “We’re not mandated to do this, but from a customer service standpoint it’s important that we require ourselves to because it’s the right thing to do.”

Varin said this departmental standard helped lead the University to gain a ranking in the top five healthiest campuses in the nation.

Food services has increased healthy options by decreasing trans-fat and increasing trans-fat, whole grains, tofu and leaner meats in addition to increasing vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options within the past seven years, according to Katherine Ingerson, the dietician for food services.

“My goal as the dietitian for the department is that no matter what dining hall you go to, no matter what line you get in, there is a healthy option at that line,” Ingerson said. “Yes maybe it’s pizza, but we’re going to serve it on a whole grain crust…we also have the same goal for vegetarians. No matter what line you get in, there is a vegetarian option. We’re working on increasing the vegan options in every line as well.”

Fact sheets from the Institute of Medicine state that healthy eating is an important quality to instill early on in life, and schools are an ideal location for this. Food services at the University seek to not only provide healthy food options, but also to educate students on proper nutrition, Ingerson said.

Ingerson said this is done through the table tents on dining hall tables, the nutrition education station in every dining hall and the Eating Smart class which is offered during both fall and spring semesters. She also said any student on meal plan can consult with her for free.

“The table tents are the most effective nutrition education tool that I use,” Ingerson said. “Whenever I am introduced to students, the first thing they mention is that I am the person who writes the table tents. However, the Nutrition Education Stations are often overlooked. Many students I speak to are unaware of their existence or location within each dining commons. Also, students are often surprised to learn they have access to free nutrition counseling if they are on the meal plan.”

In order to increase student awareness of these nutrition education tools, Ingerson said the services have been promoted via table tent and the website for food services is being updated. Some students have also suggested improving lighting around the education station in Snelling, and this option is being considered.

Taylor Tokarz, a freshman advertising major from Johns Creek, said she was aware of the nutrition tools offered in dining halls. She also said she believes the meal plan gives students the opportunity to be healthy, if they take the initiative.

“I definitely think that [being healthy or not] depends on your own preferences,” Tokarz said. “You’re definitely given the option to eat healthy, like I get egg whites for omelets instead of regular eggs. You’re given all the tools to be healthy, for sure.”

In addition to offering healthy options and proper education, food services also looks to satisfy the needs of all meal plan patrons, Varin said. Students who wish to submit concerns or request can do so through comment cards, online or in person to a food services staff member.

“We listen to our customers,” Varin said. “We appreciate their feedback, and we want to have something for everyone when they come through.”