Each menu item will be marked with appropriate health
icons to inform students.SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.—Achieving wellness requires information, and that is exactly what a new wellness program launching this month at 2,400-student Skidmore College hopes to provide to its customers. The program, called Skidmore Eat Healthy, was developed in order to provide truth about nutrition to customers, as well as to encourage them to make better food choices, says Bill Canney, director of dining services.
“We had been getting many requests from students about their desire for healthy items,” Canney says. “There were also requests for more local purchasing. The Skidmore Eat Healthy program was designed to meet these demands. We didn’t have a dietitian on staff so that was the first step. I hired a part-time dietitian and nutritionist who only works about two hours per week for me. She works about six hours a week at health services. With her help we are taking a quantum leap from where we were to where we will be as of January 21st [the day the program launches], which means from nothing to a whole lot of something as it relates to ingredient information and nutritional information.”
Developing a standard: Canney says the program consists of several components. The first step was defining what the department considered healthy. By working with the department’s dietitian, “healthy” items meant options that contained lessthan 400 calories with less than 30% of those calories from fat and contained less than 500 milligrams of sodium.
In addition to listing items that met this standard, the department also will list menu items that are vegan, vegetarian, dairy free, gluten free and local, defined as within 250 miles.
“We looked at other websites nationwide to see what types of information they were providing,” Canney says. “I always thought low fat and low cholesterol were important. When we brought in the dietitian she asked if we really needed cholesterol? The students don’t really care about that. We felt low fat was important, calories we hear about all the time and the level of sodium continues to be a trendy issue. We thought those were the most important aspects.”
Canney says the department made a smart financial decision by purchasing a nutritional application called MasterCook for $35.
“It tracks the nutritionals of our recipes and it also comes with 8,000 recipes already input,” Canney says. “To determine what items meet the Skidmore Eat Healthy criteria we have to have an established recipe. Then we input that information into this program and it gives us a total nutritional breakdown of everything that we need. We are able to get the information we need and then send the recipe on to our nutritionist to review to give it a final blessing.”
Since all of the nutritional information is related to serving size, Canney says the program will include the serving size on the website menu pages next to the menu item. To assist customers in selecting the correct portion size, the department will provide a display plate directly in front of the menu item to reflect the correct size of a portion. The program also includes the switch to all 100% trans fat-free menu items, increased whole-grain offerings, a hydration station with fruit-infused water and an aggressive stance on peanuts. As a result of an increase in the number of customers who report a peanut allergy, the department has eliminated peanuts and peanut butter in the preparation of all menu items at all dining locations.
Developing menu labels was also important to Canney. Menu item labels are printed on static cling sheets and are posted on the top of the glass sneeze guards directly above the menu item. The labels include the name of the menu item, the full list of ingredients and any relevant designations. If the menu item includes local products, a special sticker is placed directly next to the menu item label.
“The students are just excited that we are going from 0 to 200 on these initiatives that they’ve been wanting for a while,” Canney says. “The important thing for the students to realize about this program is that nothing will become a part of our menu until we are absolutely sure that it is an accurate, tested recipe and we have an accurate nutritional breakdown. We really worked hard to make sure we are disclosing as much of the ingredient and nutritional information as we can.”