With students’ dietary needs always changing, university food management giants like Aramark and AVI Foodsystems are constantly fighting for the healthiest menus.
“Slippery Rock seems to have a large quantity of students that have dietary restrictions and special diets,” director of dining Sarah Penniman said.
Planning to accommodate students with dietary restrictions and allergies starts at the top with Aramark chefs and dietitians establishing recipes and nutritional requirements for complete meals. More than 35% of these recipes are vegetarian, vegan or plant-forward.
SRU chefs and dietitians then develop their menus on a five-week cycle based off those recipes and guidelines.
“For the fall semester,” Penniman said, “we start in May and develop it during the summer. We have it finalized by the end of July to give to Chris Cole and PASSHE for approval.”
Chris Cole is the SRU director of auxiliary operations and student services. He oversees the Aramark contract.
“We start working on the spring-semester menu usually about October of the fall semester,” she said, “then have it finalized by Jan. 1.”
In addition to menus, experts also come up with plans to help students eat healthier and monitor what they’re consuming.
SRU’s “Eat Well” program promotes a clean, healthy diet that constitutes 30% of the residential dining menu. It identifies menu items made with whole foods, leafy greens and lean cuts of meat. Eat Well items are marked on stations in the dining halls and on the SRU dining website.
For students with food allergies, the True Balance station in Boozel Dining Hall offers selections without the top eight food allergens and gluten.
Dietitians and managers are also available to talk with students on an individual basis as allergens can be unusual or hard to combat.
“We have a student [allergic to] garlic,” Penniman said. “We use it on everything, even on True Balance menus, so we work with her to find alternate meals.”
“Young adults with food allergies often exhibit behavior that can put them at a higher risk for serious reaction,” Brandan Mathias, Aramark food safety specialist said in a previous article. “Often, they don’t strictly avoid the foods they are allergic to, and they are less likely to carry epinephrine pens.”
Aramark works around this by using a training course developed by MenuTrinfo called “AllerTrain.”
The course has modules that cover allergens, sources of allergens, cross contact, common names and common substitutes. The user must pass a test to then become certified.
All chefs, managers and True Balance workers are required to be AllerTrain certified at SRU.
AVI Foodsystems, which was recognized by Food Management Magazine in 2014 for Boozel and Weisenfluh being rated two of the best dining halls in America, has their own version of AllerTrain and Eat Well called “nutriSOURCE,” which combines nutritional facts with educational components.
NutriSOURCE focuses more on fruits and vegetables while Eat Well also encompasses lean protein, grains, nuts and seeds as well.
Their website acts as a meal planner and nutrition database by allowing users to build their plates from hundreds of options commonly offered at their dining halls. However, it notes that users should expect some variation in nutrition content.
NutriSOURCE also separates foods into categories called nutriGOOD, nutriWISE, nutriSNACK, and nutriTHIRST which are based on calories, fats and more.
AVI Foodsystems also offers an environmentally friendly cleaning and sanitizing service called EnviroFresh.