College shifts students’ perspective on campus dining

It’s not uncommon for a foodservice department to seek student feedback, but at one Pennsylvania college, a partnership between students and Metz Culinary Group is changing how students think about food.

eat lebanon valley college

At Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., an academic initiative called E.A.T. (Engage, Analyze and Transform) is encouraging students to be more mindful of what they eat—and what they throw away.

In the fall of 2013, Robert Valgenti, Ph.D, a philosophy professor at LVC, launched a program in cooperation with Bill Allman, general manager for Metz Culinary Group at LVC, to encourage student-led research on food-centric issues on campus. Each spring, Valgenti selects a group of students to work directly with Metz staff to take concepts such as sustainability or nutrition from classroom theories to actionable plans in which students can participate. The projects typically take place the following semester.

“I thought it would be a powerful way to improve what we do in the dining hall and improve students’ understanding about the foods they eat,” says Valgenti.

The projects have encouraged the greater student body to be more mindful of wasting less food and developing healthier eating habits.

In fall 2013, LVC student Ashley Smith created one of the first E.A.T. projects, which measured food waste on campus. She and Metz staff weighed refuse from the dining halls twice a week. They quickly found that “perfectly good food was being thrown into the garbage,” says Allman.

Weigh-in results were posted in the cafeteria. As a result, students started taking smaller amounts of food, which reduced overall food waste. As of December 2014, food waste was decreased by 19 percent. Allman says that food costs also have decreased, by 9.4 cents per plate over the previous fall semester.

“We [served] over 90,000 meals that semester, so that’s a significant savings,” he says.

Another project, created by student Andrew Diehl in fall 2014, focused on creating healthier menu items. One element was the revamping of the campus’ weekly Chicken Tender Day tradition. Metz staff tested scratch-made chicken tenders. Students loved the product and staff added it to the menu, Allman says.

“That’s a huge culture change here because students love their processed food,” Allman says.

Valgenti says he believes students may be receptive to changing what they eat because they are at an age in which they can still embrace new habits successfully. 

“It’s a point in their lives where they can make reasonable changes, changes that will probably stick with them for the rest of their lives,” he says. “If you don’t shape those behaviors now, you miss a golden opportunity.”

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