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How NU Dining has been battling food insecurity on campus during COVID-19

Northwestern University’s foodservice team has released its Dining on a Budget cooking classes in a virtual format and has also provided cookbooks to students.
NU Dining chef cooking in teaching kitchen
Photograph: NU Dining

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the dining team at Northwestern University (NU Dining) in Evanston, Ill., had been brainstorming ways to tackle food insecurity on campus. 

“We did our research and found that [food-insecure] students are more depressed, it’s harder to study,” says Campus Dietitian Lisa Carlson. 

NU Dining, which is managed by Chartwells Higher Ed, came up with a teaching kitchen series called Dining on a Budget that focuses on instructing students how to make healthy and budget-friendly meals. 

The series consists of five different modules that cover how to prepare everything from breakfast foods to plant-based meals. Students are also given kitchen tools to take home with them, such as can openers. 

NU Dining decided to cap the class size at 10 to focus on peer-to-peer learning and allow the classes to be more hands-on. 

“[Students] could each see what each other was doing,” says Carlson. “They help teach each other.”

Going virtual 

When the pandemic hit last year, NU Dining transitioned the teaching kitchen series to a virtual format. Campus chefs shot multiple videos in advance, and the team has been releasing them throughout the year. 

The virtual version of the series is open to any number of students. NU Dining posts the videos on its social media channels and has also worked to spread the word on campus. “We wanted to be even more inclusive, so we worked with a lot of groups on campus to get the word out,” says Carlson. 

The team also released a cookbook filled with healthy, budget-friendly recipes students could make while staying at home during the pandemic. 

Both the virtual and in-person classes have been a success, Carlson says: “Students have absolutely loved it. We’ve gotten a lot of great responses.”

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