MyPlate meal option

Published in Wellness Watch

Washington University in St. Louis added a MyPlate meal option at the start of the spring semester as a simple way to serve a balanced meal and help educate students about proper portion sizes. With the help of MyPlate segmented plates—dishes with separate sections for grains, protein, dairy and vegetables—a MyPlate option is available each day from each station within three of the university’s 16 dining locations.

Student response has been positive and seeing the MyPlate segmentation helps them understand what it takes to build a meal. “I think that a lot of the students that participated were saying ‘OK, this gives me an idea, even if it’s not the feature of the day, I know what I can get at this station that’s going to provide me with a balanced meal,’ ” says April Powell, director of marketing communications with Bon Appétit at the university.

Marketing the MyPlate program has been key to getting both staff and students on board. “We help our staff to understand what’s going on with the MyPlate in our meetings every morning so they get a rundown of what’s being offered that day,” Powell explains. “When we initially launched the program, we got everybody these MyPlate buttons and cheat sheets that just gave them some talking points, so that if they did come across a question that stumped them or that they didn’t have enough in-depth information to really give the right answer, that they’d be able to pull out that card … they do that pretty much every day.”

For students, a mix of communication tools have been used, including posters in all dining facilities and signage at each station, as well as student ambassadors. “We really try to incorporate student ambassadors because it’s one thing for [students] to hear it from us, and it’s a completely different thing to hear it from your peers,” Powell explains. After registering at MyPlate.gov as official MyPlate ambassadors, student ambassadors spread the message within residence halls and outside dining facilities, acknowledging students who select a MyPlate meal option.

Dining services intends to continue the program next year after using the spring semester to iron out any kinks. “We’re looking to clean it up for fall and be even more intentional with it—about what we’re offering and doing more of a campaign behind it,” Powell says. “It’s still kind of a challenge to have students really understand what it is and get that full-scale buy-in, because there is this kind of connotation of we’re telling them what to eat, but we’re not. There’s a choice there, but I think the plate is really, really helpful and really informative, it just has to be messaged properly.”