October is National Vegetarian Month, and dietitians with Aladdin’s Campus Dining are giving healthy eating platforms an extra push.
Plant-forward items are always a focus of Aladdin’s menus, in sync with parent company Elior North America’s BeWell wellness platform. Earlier this year, Aladdin partnered with TV personality and vegan advocate Terrence J to promote the Vegebond Takeover program, pop-up concepts at select colleges that boost vegetable-centric choices.
Colleges might pop Vegebond into a food truck or a traditional grill or cafe station to highlight new recipes and swap in plant-based dishes, says Aladdin Campus Dining Corporate Wellness Dietitian Kayleigh Jackson.
“The pop-ups give a culinary twist to everyday food,” she says. Plant-forward items that really resonated with students include a broccoli black bean burger with carrot bacon, Buffalo cauliflower pizza and street tacos, a spicy miso salmon grain bowl and a kung pao carrot bowl.
Aladdin also has developed a plant-based planning tool for college foodservice directors.
To reinforce the healthy eating message in a fun way, Jackson holds monthly wellness events. “The chefs get involved and do cooking demos, giving out samples of recipes that might make it to the menu,” she says. “We set up a taste-testing table and students have a chance to win prizes.”
The campus and regional dietitians work hard to engage with students so they feel free to ask questions and make requests.
And Aladdin listens. “Georgia Gwinnett College outside of Atlanta requested that plant-based sausage and shrimp be added to the menu, and we’re looking into it,” says Jackson. Meatless chorizo nachos are already on offer.
At the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Aladdin created a smoothie bar with customizable choices, including protein add-ins.
Although preferences tend to be regionally-based, college students are universally interested in meatless eating and sports nutrition, Jackson adds.
But the ultimate goal of dietitian involvement is to engage and connect with students so they know they can reach out at any time for accurate nutrition information, help with dietary restrictions and other requests.
“They can ask our dietitians any question, and they will give an informed answer based on their nutrition expertise,” says Ali Evans, director of nutrition for Elior NA. “We strive to make students comfortable with college dining in their ‘home’ for the next four years.