UMass goes all in on health with dining renovation

Published in FSD Update

When you set out to create the healthiest and most sustainable dining hall in the nation, you’d better do your best to deliver. That was the challenge that dining services at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, set for itself with the renovation of its Hampshire Dining Commons, according to Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining. The dining hall, which opened in September, focuses on serving minimally processed foods, more plant-based seasonal items, more sustainable seafood, and healthier oils, fats and beverages. DiStefano says the 46,000-square foot facility, which is part of a $15.5 million revitalization of the building, was designed around UMass Dining Services’ four guiding principles: healthy eating, sustainability, world flavors and community.

“We wanted this dining hall to really be all about the food,” DiStefano says. “The design of the commons is really unique. It’s a very simple New England-inspired design that is in an oval shape, which we call ‘the egg.’ It allows us to have display cooking at every station.”

The dining hall features 12 different concepts: a chef’s table, a trattoria, a produce station (salad bar), a noodle station, street foods concept, stir-fry, Latin foods, a grill, the bakeshop, sushi, a deli and a gluten-free/vegan/vegetarian station. Health and sustainability are at the forefront of every station. In fact, the dining commons is the only place on campus that does not serve soda. DiStefano says the concepts were developed after consulting with outside chefs and surveying student.

“We survey the students about twice a year and we have about a 25% response rate, which is pretty good,” DiStefano says. “Our students were telling us that fruits and vegetables, whole grains and local products are all very important to them. At the same time, we saw about a 15% reduction in soda consumption. In order to walk the [healthy] walk, we had to focus on creating healthy food with craveable flavors. We also really want to showcase our sustainability in its truest sense. That’s the impetus of this dining commons. At the location this fall, we’ve been able to serve 80% local produce. Plus, we’ve been able to incorporate our SPE-certified healthy meals.” SPE is a third-party certification that focuses on highlighting healthy and sustainable meal choices. 

DiStefano says a large inspiration for the menu was the Culinary Institute of America’s Principles of a Healthy Menu, which includes a focus on fruits, vegetables and healthy proteins, reducing sodium and offering options in portion size. For example, in place of soda, the dining hall has an entire station of freshly squeezed juices, which are served in 4-ounce cups.

The smaller juice portions are a good example of how the department has been able to keep costs relatively flat compared to last year, despite the dining hall’s emphasis on fresher foods.

“We’ve long maintained our small plates, big flavor philosophy,” DiStefano says. “This location is the epitome of that. We can’t cook in large portions in this facility because everything is cooked to order. You don’t have any other way to produce these items in large quantities, and students are becoming more used to the customization of each crafted plate. We’re mass-producing on a micro scale. It’s very boutique in the style of cooking.”

DiStefano says this philosophy causes the staff to only make as much food as they need and then refresh as opposed to making large batches. That philosophy also contributes to reducing waste, which also saves the department money.

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion

In a bid to beef up its presence in sports arenas and a variety of other large venues, Sodexo will acquire foodservice vendor Centerplate for $675 million.

Sodexo says the deal, which is expected to be finalized by the end of this year, will more than double its global footprint.

Centerplate, which serves as the foodservice operator for a number for stadiums, convention halls and other event spaces, brought in revenues of $998 million for the year ending June 2017, according to Sodexo. Centerplate was purchased five years ago by Olympus Partners, a private-equity company...

Menu Development
eggs

Loyola University Maryland took a new approach to all-day breakfast with an egg-focused concept.

Breakfast options were top of mind for students when asked what they would like to see on the menu at the university’s revamped Boulder Garden Cafe. Instead of creating an all-day breakfast station, however, the Baltimore-based dining team went beyond traditional options and created a concept that services all mealparts with eggs.

“It can be somewhat mundane,” says Executive Chef Don Crowther on why the team strayed away from the trendy all-day breakfast. At the eatery’s Sunny...

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Kansas has added a retail pass that allows students to purchase one to-go combo meal per day at cafes and markets on campus, the University Daily Kansan reports.

The pass is available on two different meal plans and is geared toward on-the-go students who don’t have the time to sit down and eat at a residence hall.

“It has increased the participation rate,” Jamie Reed, a service assistant for the school’s dining services, told the University Daily Kansan.

Over 1,800 students have used the pass since its debut at the beginning of the semester....

Industry News & Opinion

The University of Minnesota dining team has created a vegan student group in an effort to improve the school’s vegan offerings, Minnesota Daily reports.

The group was created by the school’s foodservice vendor, Aramark, and its campus sustainability coordinator, who is vegan, after receiving numerous complaints from students about the lack of vegan options on campus.

The group will this week host its first meeting, during which members will be able to share feedback and provide solutions to help enhance the school’s vegan offerings. Members will also keep a photo journal...

FSD Resources