Opening the door to dietary discussions

Published in FSD Update

Concerned parents visiting campus and an increased number of students enrolling with special dietary needs propelled the dining services staff at Eastern Washington University, in Cheney, to host a series of open forums for students to share dietary concerns. The forums allow students to start establishing relationships with dining services staff so that they feel comfortable asking for what they need throughout the year, while learning more about the university’s meal offerings and nutritional labeling.

“Some students are great with monitoring themselves,” says Dave McKay, director of dining services, “but we’re here to help if they need guidance and to learn who each of us is face-to-face so that they are comfortable coming to us with questions.”

This is the third year for the program, which consists of two forums held at the start of the fall semester. Throughout the year “we work with the residential life [department] if they run into something, and contact information is available on the website,” McKay explains. “We see the largest number at the first [forum] with incoming freshmen. The second will be a smaller number where [students share] more specific needs.”

The forums have allowed dining services to better accommodate students by including clear, specific nutritional information on meal items. “The biggest thing we’re seeing is awareness of gluten sensitivity,” McKay says. “Based on that, we’ve increased highlighting more gluten-free items, different breads and buns, and [are] working with providers to see what’s available in the marketplace.” The team has even gone so far as to find out where and what students eat when they’re off campus so that similar items may be made available.

“People don’t like to be singled out, and we don’t want to do that,” he adds. The forums offer an “opportunity to know who the staff is, what we currently do and how [the students] can help us in the future to meet their needs.”