Portioned Plate Offers “Educational Surprise”

UNH Wildcat plate emulates USDA and HSPH healthy plates.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

UNH’s plate uses info from MyPlate and Harvard School
of Public Health.

DURHAM, N.H.—When the USDA and the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) created their respective “healthy plate” icons to replace the traditional food pyramid recommendations, operators had to take note if they were going to offer customers information on a healthy diet. At the University of New Hampshire the dining department has taken the healthy plate icons a step further by creating an actual plate to educate and encourage students to follow healthy guidelines. The Wildcat Plate was introduced during the summer and now is being used across campus.

“We always used the Food Pyramid from the Harvard School of Public Health as our guide for our nutritional advice,” says Kimberly Persson, project director at the NH Institute for Health Policy & Practice, which worked with UNH Dining on the initiative. “When HSPH came out with its plate diagram we started thinking it would make a lot of sense if we could duplicate the plate for actual use rather than just as a handout.”

“We wanted something that [students] could really take with them, put their food on and really study,” David Hill, area manager, adds.

The department worked with a graphic designer to come up with a design for the plate. Hill says the design presented a bit of a challenge because the HSPH plate is a copyrighted image.

“Harvard is in the process of designing its own version of the plate, possibly to sell, which made them unwilling to let us print their actual plate,” Persson says. “So we worked with the USDA to get all their MyPlate information because we could use it for free as long as we credited them. We worked with our dietetic interns to come up with the proper language and nutritional information. Our plate is a hybrid between the USDA MyPlate and the HSPH plate.”

Once the design was settled, the department worked with a local company to get the plate manufactured. Jon Plodzik, director of dining, says a key requirement was finding a plate size that matched up with the dining hall’s standard plates.

“Operationally, I wanted this plate to be mixed in with the other plates, so when customers picked it up and they saw the design it became an educational surprise,” Plodzik says. “We had to find the right size that would nestle in with our existing plates and not cause the whole pile to tip over.”

The team is happy with the customer reaction. There is signage posted around the dining halls to support the program. Hill says the initial order was for only 500 plates, but the department is already looking into ordering more because the program has been so popular.

“[It was great because during] freshman orientation there was quite a bit of excitement with parents when they saw the plates,” Plodzik says. “The plates created some dialogue with the parents because it’s such a simple idea. They even wanted to buy the plates.”

Persson says she believes UNH is the only university to have created an actual plate from the widely known diagrams. Hill says the success of the program will depend on repeated exposure to the healthy message on the plates, and Plodzik agrees.

“I think the fact that [the messaging] is very subliminal makes it work well,” Plodzik says. “It’s a nice, passive way to educate the guests as they come in here. Plus, it’s an effective way to get conversations going around the table about healthy eating. It is getting customers to realize what exactly a portion is. We had a girl in here the other day who didn’t even know what a cup [measurement] was because she’s never cooked. [The plate] puts the information right in front of the students, so for at least a second they are thinking about [the message].”

More From FoodService Director

Ideas and Innovation
chefs

We started inviting chefs and FSDs from other districts to come prepare lunch. Through featuring different chefs and chef-inspired meals, I’ve found the students have been looking forward to coming into the cafeteria. They are willing to try new things with crazy names, and to ask for their favorite outside items turned healthy.

Ideas and Innovation
tapas

I’ve created a high school “focus group” to see what future college students will want in terms of foodservice. This year, I called up two now-seniors from the last group to get 10 of their friends together. I also include a sophomore or two so that I always have a contact for next year. Tapas, grain bowls and late-night breakfast all originated from this group.

Ideas and Innovation
making meals

This summer, we teamed up with a church to deliver meals to three housing projects. We brought the meals to the church, and then the church recruited volunteers to deliver the meals to the children. We’ve been very impressed with this new model, and it shows great promise in getting meals to children who otherwise would not be able to leave their housing project.

Industry News & Opinion
sharing love

Having never personally experienced a hurricane, I can only imagine the horrors faced by the millions of people whose lives were affected by Harvey and Irma in late August and early September. It’s a group that comprises uncounted noncommercial operations, including Houston Independent School District, which serves 215,000 students.

But from that tragedy has come one of the most impressive feats of foodservice I’ve seen since coming on board at this magazine, partially spearheaded by Nutrition Officer Betti Wiggins , who only just joined the district. For the entire school year,...

FSD Resources