February 25, 2008

Cornell Dining Provides Nutritional Info to Promote Health

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In keeping with the growing trend of healthy eating, Cornell Dining has been working to provide the 24,000 individuals it serves daily with healthier options and a better understanding of nutritional concepts.
When students returned to campus after winter break, they may have noticed the addition of nutrition fact labels to certain retail food items. According to Steve Miller, senior executive chef of board operations, providing nutritional information for food products has been a huge undertaking for Cornell.
The process, which began in Sept. 2007, involved upgrading the food management system, making sure the recipe file was accurate, testing the recipes, making sure products were linked to the USDA nutritional fact information and creating the actual nutritional fact labels.
“Everybody should be able to get all the information they can about what they eat because ultimately, it’s a decision that you have to make before you buy products,” Miller said.[img_assist|nid=28156|title=Dangerous decisions|desc=A student cuts himself a slice of blueberry pie in RPCC’s Market Place Eatery, one of the many dessert options at the dining establishment.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Although the process has been tedious, students are now getting the resources needed to evaluate food choices.
“I like it because [certain foods] appear to be very healthy, but sometimes when you look at the calories … you have to question if what you’re eating is really healthy,” said Jenna Green ’11.
Miller suggested that students who have recommendations or wish to see a product implemented in the dining facilities should e-mail him directly or leave a comment with Cornell Dining. Miller also hopes to have the nutritional information for all dining facilities at Cornell available online within the next 12 to 18 months.
Cornell is also working to introduce a variety of new healthy products, in addition to phasing out harmful trans fat and corn syrup in recipes.
“There’s been a general trend of us bringing healthier options to the table over the last 18 months to two years,” Miller said. “[We are] constantly changing the menus and trying to make it better.”
According to Miller, whole wheat pizza, cookies and pasta, as well as lite mayonnaise and salad dressings, are available across campus. Dining halls now also serve Wow Cow, a lactose free frozen yogurt mix that contains only 12 calories per fluid ounce. Recipes have also been altered to reflect a more nutrition-conscious mindset.
The lasagna is now made with low-fat ricotta cheese instead of full-fat product, Fresh Take Tuna Fish cups are now made with lite mayonnaise and the Mongo Grill can use vegetable stock instead of oil to steam the vegetables. These options add to the current healthy offerings, including grilled chicken, brown rice, vegetable burgers, grilled portabella mushrooms, salads and fresh fruit.
Adding nutritious items to the menu seems to be pleasing students.
“They leave the decision up to you. They present you with the option to order healthy food,” said Hannah Kirsch ’10, a nutrition major. “They put just as much effort into their healthy options so it’s more encouraging [to eat right].”
Cornell Dining also collaborates with nutritionists to bring healthy new foods to the menu. Michele Wilbur, a nutritionist for Cornell Dining, has worked closely with Miller to produce nutritional fact labels, research products and propose new ideas.
“She is a great asset to me because she can go out and do all the research that relates to new products coming in. I’ll take [a product] to her first and say ‘How do you feel about this item from a nutrition standpoint?’” Miller said.
Wilbur not only collaborates with Miller and Cornell dining, but she also educates students about proper nutrition, healthy eating habits and options on campus that cater to specific dietary needs.
“A lot of people say that we don’t have healthy options, but there are healthy options in all of our all-you-can-eat facilities,” Wilbur said.
Wilbur also presents food demonstrations in Robert Purcell Community Center’s dining hall every Wednesday, highlighting healthy snacks and foods that are available on campus. Presentations dealing with healthy eating and nutrition consciousness will continue on campus in an effort to educate individuals, especially since March marks National Nutrition Month.