Third-party certification improves healthy option consumption at UMass

UMass partnered with SPE for its third-party healthy certification.

Published in FSD Update

Creating a restaurant-quality experience has long been a goal for dining services at the University of Massachusetts, in Amherst. So when the idea to bring in a third party to validate the department’s healthy options arose, Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining, says it was a no-brainer to partner with an organization that does just that for Michelin-star restaurants. The company, SPE Certified, stands for Sanitas Per Escam (or “Health Through Food” in Latin).

Nuts and bolts: The program markets healthy meals on the main line in the university’s dining halls as SPE Certified. SPE’s criteria include foods that “promote the consumption of fruits and vegetables, promote high quality fats and reduce saturated fat, ensure nutrient density, limit processed ingredients and enhance food’s intrinsic nutritional properties,” according to the company’s website. The certification also takes sustainability measures into account. Dianne Sutherland, R.D., UMass dining dietitian, says the department submitted more than 200 recipes to SPE to see if they met the company’s nutritional requirements.

“About 40% of the recipes just needed small tweaks and another 50% needed modification based on ingredients or the dish’s method of preparation,” Sutherland says. “The other 10% did not meet their criteria at all. We tweaked the recipes and sent [SPE] the nutrient analysis and they put the meal combinations together. Then we implemented those combinations on our base menu so there would be one SPE Certified meal at every breakfast, lunch and dinner.”

Challenges: DiStefano says the biggest challenge was adapting what was designed as a restaurant program into one that would work for an all-you-care-to-eat environment.

“We needed to educate the students so they’d choose the correct composed meal,” DiStefano says. “To do that, we’d promote the daily item to the students through social media and posters and banners before they got to the dining hall. The second phase was to have service staff out [on the line] to answer questions, along with posters that explained why these meal combinations work and why eating healthy is important.”

DiStefano says the department’s promotional approach to the program eventually resulted in students consistently choosing the SPE Certified meal over other meals on the main line. 

“We noticed that the students who were educated on the SPE items chose it even though it only counted for a third of what we were offering on the main line—those meals counted for 60% of what was consumed,” DiStefano says. “It taught us that if students are educated on healthier options, the food item tastes good and we can execute in serving it consistently, then students will routinely come back. Furthermore, we found that students weren’t just cherry-picking. The students were choosing to go to the main line and when they were there, they chose the SPE meal 2-to-1 over the other options on that line.” 

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

The Louisiana Senate is asking the state’s Education Department to create a task force to ensure every student gets a meal at school, KLFY reports.

The task force resolution was OKed after a bill that sought to end lunch shaming failed to pass the Senate Education Committee last month. State lawmakers say the bill, which was backed by the Louisiana House, failed to pass due to worries about districts losing money.

Members of the community, however, are upset that the resolution does not fully ban lunch shaming. A reporter at KLFY created a Facebook poll asking local...

Industry News & Opinion

An agreement between Northwestern University’s new foodservice vendor and the union that represents many of the school’s service workers has put to rest some staff concerns over its upcoming vendor switch, reports The Daily Northwestern .

Unite Here Local 1 said that it met with representatives of Compass Group North America, which assumes control of the Evanston, Ill., school’s foodservice this fall, and reached a deal to ensure that staff who previously worked under Sodexo and Aramark would have job security with Compass. In addition, the agreement continues many benefits that...

Ideas and Innovation
scratch card

Two days a week, we do scratch card purchases of $6 or more to get a free item on the next visit. Patients and staff look forward to the Monday and Friday scratch card days. It increases sales on slow days as well as guest satisfaction.

Ideas and Innovation
ramen noodles

The Arkansas Heart Hospital in Little Rock has unveiled a new, full-time food truck called Food from the Heart. It’s the first hospital-owned and operated food truck in the nation, according to KATV .

The truck, which will offer a limited menu that includes Chef Coby Smith ’s popular ramen, served its first meal on May 2 and will roll out service throughout the area beginning next month, the report said.

In addition, it will have pop-up locations, allowing the hospital to extend its reach to communities outside metro Little Rock. The truck can also be used in emergency...

FSD Resources

Code for Asynchronous jQuery Munchkin Tracking Code