Honoring top-quality food, creative marketing, and cutting-edge customer service, Food Management (FM) magazine hosts its annual competition to recognize and celebrate innovative thinking and practice in non-commercial food service. This year, Hospitality Services at Rensselaer, a division of Sodexho USA, will be honored for its efforts to integrate an effective and customer-friendly special diet program into the meal plan with “myZone.” John Fusco, district manager for Sodexho Campus Services, and Jackie Baldwin, executive chef and culinary director, will receive the award for “Best Station/Unit Concept” during the FM Ideas Conference Oct. 28-30 at the Red Rock Casino, Resort & Spa in Las Vegas, Nev.
Launched in September 2007, myZone targets students and others on campus with sensitivities/allergies to anything from gluten and dairy to tree nuts and seafood.
“Dealing with students’ severe food allergies or sensitivities is a particular challenge for every campus because the smallest misstep can have serious consequences,” said Fusco. “In the college environment, some students with such conditions often make their own accommodations outside the meal plan, which may lead some to petition for an exemption. We wanted to create a ‘safe space’ within the residential dining facility so that students with special dietary restrictions could prepare their own meals without the risk of contamination and without feeling isolated or separated from their peers.”
The space located in an alcove in the Commons Dining Hall has become a selling point for students touring the Rensselaer campus, as well as an incentive for those with special dietary needs to participate in Rensselaer’s meal plan. In the first year, voluntary meal plan retention increased in part due to the concept, Fusco noted.
Rensselaer’s dining hall staff maintain myZone, which is stocked with fresh and frozen meals, sides, desserts, snacks, dry groceries, beverages, and more. Students may also get a taste of fresh-made products from Rensselaer’s own bakeshop, including items such as wheat- and gluten-free baked goods. All products are marked with nutritional and allergen information. In addition to allergies and food intolerances, the program also accommodates religious dietary restrictions. For example, kosher and halal products are kept in separate countertop refrigerators and even have their own grills, Baldwin noted.
“Dealing with students’ severe food allergies or sensitivities is a particular challenge for every campus
“Our goal in creating myZone is to please students’ palates and create an enjoyable dining experience,” said Baldwin. “Our chefs make daily meals for the special-diet students, who are also free to go into the kitchen and ask for something to be prepared. It’s really important to me that we work with students to accommodate their needs and make them part of the community, especially when it comes to dining. Eating should always be fun.”
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