By Molly Bello
Gluten-Free, Nut-Free, Dairy-Free, Vegetarian, and Vegan are just a few of the dietary restriction labels students live with every day. Trying to find healthy (and safe) meals with these restrictions can be difficult anywhere, but especially in cafeterias.
The Sodexo staff in the Bridgewater State University dining halls are taking strides to make sure the school accommodates for every student’s dietary needs.
One of the biggest changes over the last few years has been the addition of the “My Zone” in ECC and Tilly.
“Food items needed by customers with celiac disease or food allergies can be housed [in My Zone] with precautions against cross-contamination,” said Flynn Dining Commons (Tilly) manager Bart Huntley. “This special area gives students the ability to be involved in their own allergen-safe meal preparation. “
This area has a toaster, refrigerator, microwave, and a gluten-free version of the main meal. There are also gluten-free and nut-free desserts in-stock.
Staff from every dining hall highlights the importance of communication. “The challenge isn’t providing the food for the students who have dietary restrictions; the challenge is getting them to talk to us about their needs. Once we know their restrictions, whether it be allergies or vegan/vegetarian needs, we can accommodate them. We can’t stress enough for students to engage with us and tell us their needs,” said Huntley.
Executive chef Arthur Morrissette always offers students his personal cell phone number. He encourages students to explain their specific needs to him, as well as give him an estimate of when they’ll be at the dining hall and what food they’ll need.
“We would love for students to come talk to us. Not only about dietary restrictions but also about likes and dislikes. This helps us plan our menus around what our guests want and need. We also encourage any guest with dietary needs to contact us ahead of time and place orders,” said executive chef Daniel L. Di Bona.
Sodexo Unit Marketing Coordinator April Oliveira hopes social media will become an open forum and an important channel for students to voice concerns and questions. “Follow us on social media, let us know what we can do for you. I’d love to see a conversation on FB or Twitter about things students like/dislike, needs and wants. I’d love to log in to the BSUdining FB and see messages from students that need our help because that is what we are here for.”
“[I want students to] talk to us any way they feel comfortable. There’s always someone in the dining halls i.e. Managers, Supervisors and staff that are more than happy to help. I understand that some students don’t feel comfortable approaching someone but they can always contact us through email which is posted on our website,” said Oliveira.
Di Bona recommends students use the MyFitnessPal app for more information on the food they are eating on campus. “Download the free app on your smartphone or create your free account at MyFitnessPal then search ‘Sodexo Campus’ recipes or scan the item’s barcode.”
“Of course a great resource is the Sodexo culinary team: executive chefs, managers, supervisors and frontline employees who are trained monthly on food safety.” Huntley says. “All managers and supervisors are food safe certified, and we also have managers who are OSHA certified.”
The Bridgewater Dining website gives information about menus for all four dining halls, and specific information about eating on campus with food allergies and other dietary restrictions.
Bottom line: Sodexo will create a specialized plan for anyone that needs it.There are alternatives to dairy, nuts, soy, eggs and more. Don’t be afraid to ask questions and make suggestions. Sodexo wants to learn from you.
Molly Bello is a Comment Columnist. Follow her on Twitter at @mollybello.