Terry Baker: Healthy attitude
At a Glance
- 24,000 students (6,000 on meal plan)
- $22 million budget
- 32 dining choices
- 160 full-time staff, 600-plus student employees
Terry Baker has transformed dining services at Oklahoma State University by:
- Developing Choose Orange, an award-winning healthy dining program
- Designing a 10-unit food court for the Student Union that helped the facility win “Most Amazing Student Union” from BestCollegeReviews.org
- Supporting sustainability through the Farm Fresh, Made In Oklahoma and Farmers’ Market programs
The healthy options
UDS has focused on healthful dining since 2007, when the department rolled out Choose Orange, an identification system that highlights healthful foods. Orange tags—orange is one of the university’s colors—identify better-for-you foods, as defined by U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines. But the program received a financial boost in 2011, when UDS received two grants to help fund healthy initiatives.
“A couple of years ago I was just looking at what was coming along the horizon regarding wellness and I thought we could find some grant money out there to help us get started,” Baker says. “I actually applied for one grant, which we found out we didn’t qualify for, but discovered that we were eligible for another grant, which we did receive.”
That grant, ironically, was from the Oklahoma Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. The money came from proceeds of a multistate lawsuit against the tobacco industry.
“Once we got that grant, which was for three years, we got another grant from the Merrick Foundation (a local philanthropic organization dedicated to wellness in Oklahoma), which had matching funds,” she adds. “That really helped us get some of the things we needed to really kick off the program.”
Part of the grant money was used to hire Cass Ring as nutrition coordinator. Under Ring’s guidance, UDS has put together an aggressive program that includes disseminating nutrition information, healthy cooking demos by UDS chefs and monthly cooking classes given by Ring herself.
“We know that we’ll never get rid of burgers and fries,” Baker acknowledges. “But if we can provide foods with really exciting flavors, whether international or local, that are healthier, then students will gravitate to the healthier choices.”
The most ambitious part of the program was introduced this fall, when UDS launched a labeling system for all of its grab-and-go items that provides nutrition and allergen information for every packaged food prepared on campus—more than 800 items. Baker says the new system, spearheaded by Assistant Director Snead, took two years to complete.
“We created the nutritional label program as a way to help educate students about healthy eating lifestyles, by providing them the information they need to make better choices,” Baker explains.
Student Union upgrades
The year 2011 was a busy one for UDS. Not only did the department begin ramping up its wellness and sustainability programs, it also put the finishing touches on a $16 million overhaul of foodservice in the Student Union, part of a $64 million refurbishing of the 65-year-old building. UDS designed a 10-unit food court that offers a mix of national and local franchises, as well as UDS’s own brands.
“This really transformed a facility that was very tired,” Baker says. “We brought in some really good self-branded concepts along with some well-known franchises.”
The self brands include Passport, which features a rotating mix of global cuisines; Bread and Beyond Deli, which offers 42 different sandwiches and paninis made to order; Hot Dog Cart; Mambo Italiano; and Red Earth Kitchen, which focuses on locally sourced ingredients for its menu of comfort foods. There is also a c-store called Union Express.
The restaurant brands are Chick-fil-A, Caribou Coffee, Jamba Juice, Baja Fresh and Johnny Rockets.
“Our approach with the redesign was to include student input from the beginning and put together a lineup of concepts that reflect what students are experiencing in the outside world,” Baker notes. “We wanted to take a more global view of foodservice, while also finding ways to incorporate more of our local and sustainable products.
“Overall, I think the students really have embraced our program,” she adds. “They always speak well of it in our focus groups, especially what we’ve done with healthy dining. And when you get recognition from your peers, that makes it even better. I was really pleased and honored that we received [NACUFS recognition] this year.”