Healthy Performance

The name of Holy Cross’s healthy dining program is designed to play to students’ egos.

By Paul King, Editorial Director

Students who choose to make healthier choices can go
to the Performance Foods station first.

WORCESTER, Mass.—Sometimes the concept of stealth health can be actualized in something as simple as a name change. That’s how Holy Cross Dining, at the College of the Holy Cross, solved the problem of how to convince students to eat more healthfully, when it introduced Performance Foods last fall.

“The name Performance Foods was chosen because experience told us that ‘healthy’ may not be a positive adjective for much of our audience,” says Kathy Egan, R.D., dietitian for Holy Cross Dining. “However, 25% of our students participate in varsity sports, which made it likely that targeting athletic performance would bring success.

“We further expanded the idea to include all types of performance” she adds. “Performance Foods is both a salient menu choice for customers seeking healthier foods and an educational ‘how to eat well’ without the words ‘healthy’ or ‘diet’ attached.”

Building on success: Performance Foods builds on the healthy menu offerings already available at Holy Cross. For example, dining services already had a 40-foot salad bar, stir-fry station and grill. Many healthy recipes were already on file, and the program offered several vegan items daily.

“Data from our annual customer satisfaction survey revealed that our customers desired healthier menu options but didn’t really know what that meant,” says Egan. “We decided the best direction for improving our customer satisfaction was to simultaneously increase the amount and visibility of our healthy options and gently educate our customers.”

The three dietary pillars of Performance Foods are:

• Lean proteins, either baked, grilled or broiled, with less than three grams of fat per ounce, and either seasoned with herbs or lightly sauced;

• Complex carbohydrates, minimally processed to be high in fiber and nutrition; and

• Vegetables that are either steamed or roasted with olive oil.

A Performance Foods station was created in Kimball Dining Hall to serve as a focal point for the wellness effort.

“Grouping all of the best nutritional choices together serves as both a convenience and a teaching tool,” she explains. “Students who choose to make healthier choices can go to the Performance Foods station first. Even if they don’t select those foods that day, they have been given a real-life example of a healthy, balanced meal.”

On a shoestring: Egan notes that the introduction of Performance Foods was accomplished with minimal cost, which was a key requirement of the program because dining services already has invested heavily in a major renovation of Kimball Dining Hall in the summer of 2013.

“Minimal marketing efforts were needed,” says Egan. “The idea sold itself.” Among the tools the department used were to deploy a nutritionist at the Performance Foods station to explain the concept to staff and students, to create informative tabletop displays, a brochure and a bulletin board promoting the idea, and to post pictures and weekly nutrition tips on the Holy Cross Dining Facebook page. Student athletes were introduced to the program during a presentation by the nutritionist.

In fact, the toughest part of rolling out the program, she explains, was dealing with the fact that by the time the team was developing Performance Foods, the menu for the fall semester already had been written, limiting the original rollout.

Expanding on the menu: As Performance Foods takes root at Holy Cross, a committee of managers has been formed to review future product and menu selections with regard to their nutritional aspects. One thing the department has discovered is that, to customers, healthful dining isn’t just about offering healthier versions of popular foods.

For example, chefs originally thought that they could take an item students really liked, such as Chicken Parmesan, and reduce the calories and fat substantially by grilling the chicken breasts instead of frying them. “We learned that the performance Foods offerings have to be different enough from the regular offerings at a given meal so that students don’t get the sense that the regular menu is not healthy,” says Art Korandanis, director of auxiliary services.

“It is our hope that the quantity of Performance Foods offerings will increase steadily,” says Egan, who notes that Performance Foods has been a huge success.

Student and staff buy in: “The customer comment cards have been overwhelmingly positive,” she says. “Production records indicate that about 10% of the meals are being selected from Performance Foods. There has been a substantial buzz among staff as well. Since many of our staff are very interested in health and fitness, they enthusiastically took hold of the idea.”

Chef Tim Trachimowicz says, “It was a tough sell when we initially brought the idea of adding more items to the kitchen workload. But when [staff] saw how successful the Performance Foods station was, they were completely on board.”

Egan adds that meal participation has increased since Performance Foods was introduced.

“We’re seeing fewer meal swipes wasted at the end of the semester, meaning that students are eating with us more often.”