At University of North Dakota, National Nutrition Month in March sometimes elicits as much excitement as the NCAA basketball tournament or spring break. That’s when the school’s version of the TV show “Chopped” takes place. The competition is an event organized by UND Dining’s registered dietitian, Dustin Frize, in partnership with the college’s chefs. Students are organized into teams, given a basket of nutritious foods and tasked with creating winning dishes. “Healthfulness is a key component of the judging,” Frize says.
And this unique partnership is gaining traction nationwide. At colleges, hospitals and other foodservice operations, dietitians are becoming actively involved on the culinary side, working with chefs to organize events, build menus and participate in tastings. This move away from their desks and into the dining areas creates more opportunity to educate diners where they eat.
The cooking competition at UND gently pushed students toward healthier food choices in an entertaining, interactive way. Frize coordinates other initiatives that do the same. Along with Executive Chef Greg Gefroh and other team members, he helped produce videos on how to infuse entrees with more vegetables. These play on monitors at the wok, pasta, salad and chefs’ table stations.
Dietitian Jesse Baedke, manager of food and nutrition services for CoxHealth, a six-campus hospital system in Springfield, Mo., worked with his chef and masters-level interns to create a superfood-themed program for 2017’s National Nutrition Month, with a focus on Native American cuisine. Among the items served were Navajo tacos; blue cornbread with wojapi, a sauce made with antioxidant-rich fruit; and chicken with sweet red chilies.
Input on Ingredients
“Employees are incentivized to participate in our wellness program, and they get a 35% discount on food purchases if they do,” Baedke says. To that end, he helps foster an environment of health, impacting menu development even though he doesn’t have culinary training. For example, the chef wanted to serve loaded mac and cheese as a lunch item, but Baedke convinced him to develop a red quinoa and brown rice dish instead.
Dietitian Maureen Husek, director of nutrition and retail service for Beaumont Health in Royal Oak, Mich., has been instrumental in getting more local foods into the eight-hospital system. As part of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, she and the chef work with 11 farms to source Michigan blueberries, cherries, apples, salad greens and more. In accordance with the initiative, local ingredients have to compose at least half of a recipe—the cafeteria’s blueberry salsa is a popular example.
In addition, Husek helped establish a weekly on-site farmers market.Employees can purchase produce to take home, and the chef also uses the farmers’ products in the cafeteria.