Successful Sustainable Meal Plans

Gone are the days of all you care to eat at Mary Baldwin College, a Chartwells account in Staunton, Va. Students now can only purchase a Sustainable Meal Plan option.

So what is a Sustainable Meal Plan? Rather than preparing and offering a variety of foods for students to choose as much as they’d like, under the Sustainable Meal Plan, students can choose only one entrée item and two sides from the main serving area in the dining hall. They then may add to their plates from a variety of self-service stations that surround the entrée area.

The new meal plan was started after an event during which food intake and waste were monitored and reported for student awareness. Reducing the number of options for students has allowed the university not only to educate students about proper portion sizes and encourage healthy choices but also to reduce food waste, cut food costs and improve food quality. “We’re trying to help with the overeating issue that you see in colleges and universities,” explains Michael Clay, executive chef at Mary Baldwin. “And what’s great about it is that it’s a complete meal and helps cut down on cost.”

The new format “allows us to use a lot better components to the dish,” Clay continues, so food quality is “a lot more like a restaurant” and fresh items are a central focus. “We try to do completely from scratch as much as possible,” he explains, and the sustainable meal plan option “allows for more fresh items.” The two main serving lines are supported by all-you-care-to-eat stations offering fresh items from a Chef’s Table, a salad bar, a vegan and vegetarian station and a seasonal soup bar. 

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We do a monthly Meal In The Life, where residents of different cultures serve as our ambassadors and help coordinate the program. A couple of months ago it was Russia. We had a Russian-themed menu and a resident ambassador who got to wear a button and talk about the culture. We do an hors d’oeuvres session and a food demo, followed by a full-blown meal the next day in our dining room. The servers wear something special, and we have special music.

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