Five Questions for: David George

David George, Five Questions, Syracuse University, Meatless MondaysGoing a day without meat, be it Monday or not, is catching on at many foodservice operations. David George, director of food services at 19,600-student Syracuse University in New York, and his department have been working with the Healthy Monday initiative to implement Meatless Mondays. He spoke to FSD about how this initiative promotes a reduced-meat lifestyle and highlights the department’s extensive vegan and vegetarian daily offerings.

How did the Meatless Mondays program get started?

Meatless Monday is an international campaign to raise awareness about preventable diseases linked to eating meat. SU Food Services works with Healthy Monday on other projects. Meatless Monday is our most recent collaboration. Meatless Monday is a means by which we can make students aware that incorporating more plant-based foods and eating less meat may help prevent chronic disease. We have always had a strong vegan and vegetarian line in our dining centers, so this was easy to incorporate. We have meatless options available every day at every meal.

What else is involved with the Healthy Monday program?

Healthy Monday is a public health initiative founded in 2005 in association with Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and Syracuse University. The goal is to help leverage Mondays as a way to prompt and sustain healthy behavior. Anyone can use the Healthy Monday concept. Our registered dietitian works with Healthy Monday to bring education to our dining centers. It can be anything from Meatless Monday to physical activity or getting enough sleep.

What was involved with implementing the program?

We displayed Healthy Monday information in our dining centers. We instituted a “Try Me!” program that introduces a new grain, fruit or vegetable each month. We also focused our National Nutrition Month efforts on educating students about the benefits of incorporating more plant-based foods into their diet. We’ve prepared items such as broccoli chow mein, four-bean casserole, couscous and feta salad, whole-wheat shells and cheese, mushroom quiche, barbecue tempeh, sesame pasta with tofu, ravioli with creamy spinach sauce, sweet potato bake, tempeh à la king, almond curry couscous and vegetable enchiladas.

What were some of the biggest challenges involved with implementing the program?

One challenge was getting students to understand that Meatless Monday isn’t just for vegetarians or vegans. Everyone can reap the health benefits of incorporating more plant-based foods into his or her diet. We also wanted students to know that we serve meatless options every day, not just Monday.

What advice would you give to other operators who might want to do something similar?

Make your educational efforts interactive. In addition to posting our “Try Me!” posters, we created some recipes using the item of the month and feature those in the dining centers. We ask students to try the new item and give us feedback. Some of our “Try Me!” items include adzuki beans, quinoa, wheat berries, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, cranberries, millet, pigeon peas, edamame, beets and arugula. When we develop our “Try Me!” ideas we ask students for their opinions through our Web site or during Meatless Monday, during which we have surveys students can fill out to let us know what they think of an item and what items they may like to see in the future.

For more info on Healthy Monday, visit http://healthyim.syr.edu.