You know how there are some restaurants that have a note on their menus letting patrons know they can meet special dietary needs? UNH’s dining halls can do that. No—not just can, do. On a daily basis. For more than six years now, UNH Dining—which serves more than 100,000 meals a week-- has been providing gluten-free food in all three of the dining halls. Each has separate refrigerator areas for gluten-free items as well as separate gluten-free cooking stations, cutting boards, and utensils.
That’s an important distinction for someone with celiac disease. The separate-everything avoids the risk of the cross-contact contamination of gluten, which causes inflammation and other complications in people suffering from the disease.
“There are many foods that are naturally gluten-free but you still have to have separate areas to avoid cross-contact. For instance, peanut butter is gluten-free but it can’t be spread using the same knife that was used on regular wheat bread,” says Dining Services’ registered dietitian Rochelle L’Italien. As an added service, diners can phone in or email their gluten-free requests ahead of time and have their meals ready to eat when they arrive.
Gluten allergies aren’t the only issues patrons face. “There also are a growing number of customers who have sensitivities to a multitude of foods. Our services are appreciated by them as well” L’Italien says. Vegans appreciate the steps Dining Services has taken to offer food choices that are animal-product free (no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products), identified on menus by a green leaf logo.
“We’ve always had a vegan station at all three dining halls and beyond that, many vegan options including salad bar items, fresh fruit, beans, hummus, veggie burgers and even almond, soy and rice milks and soy yogurt,” says L’Italien.
She notes that certain vegan fare appeals to non-vegans as well, and it’s easy to see why with dishes like Italian tofu saute, which garnered Dining Services a second place award in the 2012 Best Vegan Recipe contest sponsored by the National Association of College and University Food Services.
“We at UNH Dining are part of the educational mission of the university, not only nutritionally but also by providing a wide variety of foods, some of which students may have never tried before,” says L’Italien. “It’s important to us to help students eat well, and a part of that is offering an abundance of menu choices and nutritional education daily.”
Nutritional information is at the ready with the Guiding Stars system adopted by Dining Services in 2009. The plan rates food using zero to three stars based on nutritional value according to the recommendations of the FDA and the USDA.
Foods high in fiber, vitamins, minerals and whole grains receive one to three stars for good, better, best nutritional content, with three stars denoting the best. Trans fat, saturated fats, cholesterol, added sugar and sodium impact the ratings.
“There are so many options,” L’Italien says. “We have low-fat muffins, dressings, milk. There are also the normally low-fat foods that we’ve always had. People just need to consider the mix of things they choose such as fruits, vegetables, grains, for a meal that’s healthy and delicious.”
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Photo by Erin Gleason