Steering customers toward healthier food choices is a year-round goal in noncommercial dining. But when National Nutrition Month rolls around in March, a number of operators ramp up their efforts in step with the nationwide marketing campaign initiated by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Here's how foodservice directors and chefs are getting creative with menus, events and promotions this month—engaging customers in healthy eating and instilling long-term nutrition habits.
1. The power of plants
Indiana University in Bloomington is promoting veg-forward dishes during March at several dining locations, including a plant-based "takeover" of Goodbody Eatery, a campus dining venue. The college's chefs worked with Forward Food, a culinary training organization, to develop international plant-based dishes such as pulled "pork" tacos made with jackfruit and a Thai ginger and garlic noodle bowl with spicy red curry green beans, according to the Indiana Daily Student, IU's independent student newspaper.
To promote National Nutrition Month at other dining locations, IU's Residential Programs and Services is coordinating a sampling program every Wednesday, providing tastings of items such as vegetable vindaloo, pistachio and apricot couscous, and a lemon-herb quinoa salad. Eventually, student favorites may be incorporated into the regular menu rotation.
2. A local slant
Increasing awareness about nourishment from local sources is also the aim at Duke University in Durham, N.C. Executive Sous Chef Todd Dumke is celebrating National Nutrition Month with A Most Nutritious Bite, a healthy snack sample that includes products from area farmers. The item is composed of a thinly sliced beet with seasoned quinoa, blood orange segments, a spicy cress blend and honey yogurt—developed to show students how to combine grains, fruit, vegetables and dairy into a bite-sized treat.
3. Seasonal picks
Portland Public Schools highlights a different Oregon crop year-round with its Harvest of the Month promotion. Since March is between growing seasons, local berries frozen by a local processor are the featured fruit. "One theme of National Nutrition Month is 'go further with food,' and frozen local berries exemplify that theme," says Whitney Ellersick, senior director of nutrition services for the K-12 system. Her team incorporates frozen blueberries, boysenberries and marionberries into items including yogurt parfaits, muffins and crisps.
4. Promoting corporate wellness
Iraj Fernando, executive chef for Southern Foodservice Management and manager of dining services at Bosch Tools Corp. and Bosch LLC in suburban Chicago, debuted several new vegetable dishes for National Nutrition Month. Garbanzo salad, barley and kale pilaf, and tabbouleh are side dish choices to encourage customers to try something other than potatoes. "The brightness and fresh cuts of the vegetables and displaying them on white china dishes makes a huge difference in encouraging trial," says Fernando. The items fall into the new Be Well Bosch program, part of Southern Foodservice's Smart Cuisine concept.
5. Educate and call to action
“Eat Well, Live Well” is the umbrella slogan for Vanderbilt University’s monthlong nutrition event. It started with a kickoff on March 2, during which chefs on the Nashville campus distributed samples of healthy menu items, then continued with a nutrition education presentation and activity expo. In the middle of the month, university employees were invited to participate in an online challenge, complete with prizes. Department teams were encouraged to take action to eat healthier and document the positive changes by emailing in photos. Suggestions include hosting a healthy potluck with co-workers, stocking the break room with healthy snacks and setting up a breakfast bar with customizable yogurt parfaits or overnight oats.
6. Get on the green line
At GrossmontUnion High School District in San Diego County, Calif., Director of Child Nutrition Vince Scimone introduced a dedicated line for vegetarians in a couple of locations. He's calling it the Green Line and offering items such as teriyaki tofu, veggie jambalaya and veggie sandwiches on bagels (in keeping with the green theme, all are served on recyclable trays). To coincide with National Nutrition Month, Scimone is working on adding Green Lines to other schools in the district.