Dining Services unveils more options; smaller portions

| News Editor

Leah Kucera | Student Life

Offerings from the new Mongolian Grill street food station at Bears Den are now available as part of a host of updates to eateries on-campus.

The 2013 academic year kicked off with several changes to Dining Services at Washington University, from the South 40 to the Village to the Danforth Campus.

Some of the changes were motivated by nutritional reasons, through collaboration between Dining Services and Connie Diekman, director of University nutrition, while others were logistical or just an attempt to keep things fresh.

In Bear’s Den, the changes include a new section at the Mongolian Grill offering street foods from different Asian countries, an updated kosher station and a new method of preparation at the pasta station called “live action.”

The pasta station will now prepare meals more similarly to Sizzle & Stir, where students will pick the ingredients and everything will be mixed together and heated in a pan and cooked in front of them.

“So they’ll actually prepare your pasta for you, and that gives you a better experience overall,” April Powell, director of marketing and communications for Dining Services, said. “It’s nice to come into the Servery at lunch and smell things being prepared.”

“The staff will heat everything whereas in the past it was the pasta sat out in the big silver pans, not very visually appearing. The pasta tastes fresher, [and] it looks prettier,” Diekman said.

Although some students have complained about the longer wait time at the pasta station than in previous semesters, Powell believes the change will still be well-received in the long run.

“I think that whenever you add an action component, you are going to add that longer wait time,” Powell said. “But I think we have it structured to where it’s not a long wait time, just a little bit longer than before. The feedback has been very positive—those who are willing to wait will. Those who can’t wait at lunch will come back and wait at dinner.”

This year’s big change at the kosher station, L’Chaim, is the addition of a carvery. Powell and Nadeem Siddiqui, Dining Services resident district manager, both agreed that the station needed some improvement.

“We wanted to make it feel like the other stations. It’s never been an afterthought, but we knew we could do better,” Powell said.

Siddiqui cited his goal of building community around food as part of the student experience for this change.

“That’s the culture here, so we have to look at that and make sure we’re providing services that allow people to get together as a community,” Siddiqui said. “The school really has a chance to interact and exchange ideas around the table. Someone who eats, say, salad can have a meal with someone who’s kosher [in the same place].”

Another change that many students have noticed is the new MyPlate dish at Bear’s Den brunch. The plate has raised dividers to show the recommended amount of grains, protein, fruits and vegetables.

“We thought if we have those as options for brunch, it gives people a visual cue,” Diekman said. “It’s not an attempt to force people or limit people, just an aid for those who want to make things healthier. We hope to do a full educational campaign with them.”

However, some students haven’t responded positively to the new plates.

“It makes me feel like I’m being treated like a child,” sophomore Meghan Zecchini said. “I think everyone is old enough to decide what to eat and portion-controlled plates with labels like ‘fruits’ and ‘grains’ isn’t going to stop me from putting bacon everywhere.”

Powell encouraged students to look at MyPlate as a guide for those who want one rather than as a requirement for all students.

Siddiqui added that the main aim of the MyPlate, along with many of the changes to Bear’s Den, is to provide students with choices when it comes to food.

“The attempt is to give people choices and help them make their own decisions,” Siddiqui said. “I think it’s going well, [and] as we go through the next few weeks we’ll get a regular schedule figured out—one thing we need to know is what’s good, what’s not as good, do we need to make changes, etc.”

In the neighboring Cherry Tree Cafe, the sandwich menu has been updated, and some of the bakery items have been made smaller, including the muffins, which are now displayed in colorful paper wrapping rather than muffin cups.

In terms of the sandwich menu, Powell said that the changes reflect Dining Services’ desire to keep dining fresh for students.

“We want a little variety so students don’t get bored and things don’t get stale,” Powell said.

Powell added that there has been some negative feedback from students due to the removal of the turkey club from the menu, but she explained that students can still order the exact same sandwich using the make-your-own option.

“The [new] sandwiches are different, and you can get a turkey club or a standard sandwich anywhere,” Powell said. “But we totally respect loyalty to different brands, and we really rely on student feedback. We try not to make any changes without getting a strong sense of what they want.”

Diekman explained that the smaller portion sizes for baked goods are to provide students with a sweets option that doesn’t leave them feeling guilty.

“Cherry Tree worked to reduce the portions, and that’s of course already received some attention,” Diekman commented. “The muffins and cupcakes are a little bit smaller. Much of it is tied to presentation, and they’re now an appropriate portion so the calories are more manageable.”

The changes have not escaped students’ notice.

“It’s nicer to have a smaller portion, but it’s difficult to eat with the paper,” sophomore Elizabeth Dansky said.

However, some students are upset about the smaller portions.

“The muffins are half the size they used to be, but they still cost the same price,” sophomore art school student Missy Quick said. “There are only so many choices…and that was one of the only ones that could get you through most of an 8 a.m. studio class without dying of hunger. At least bring the price down so I can buy something else and not run out of meal points.”

Bear’s Den was not the only dining hall to see some changes this year. Fasano’s, the late-night diner that premiered last year in Bear’s Den, has been moved to the Village Cafe, which Powell says was done for logistical reasons.

“We have a lot to offer here, and I think doing the brunch options over there gives a lot of life to that community,” Powell said. “Bear’s Den wasn’t the best fit for Fasano’s in terms of the facilities. We’re seeing that it was the right move.”

Some new additions have been made to the Fasano’s menu as well: banana oat pancakes and huevos rancheros.

Other changes across campus are the move of the frozen yogurt machine from Cafe Bergson in the DUC to Whispers Cafe in the library. Diekman noted the possible nutritional benefits of the frozen yogurt, which is fat free and comes in four-ounce portions.

A change that will be campus-wide is the removal of all peanut products, with the exception of pre-packaged products.

“There’s a growing number of students with airborne peanut allergies, so they can’t even walk into the dining location,” Diekman explained.

Students with peanut allergies appreciate the change, although they realize it might upset other students.

“As someone who’s allergic to peanuts, it makes my life a little easier because I don’t have to worry about any cross-contamination of peanuts with any food I might eat,” senior Jess Johnson said. “Although as someone who lives with people who love peanut butter…this probably won’t go over well with the majority of students.”

Peanut butter is still offered in the Cherry Tree Cafe, so students with peanut allergies should be cognizant of that, Diekman added.

Siddiqui explained changes in dining services, whether motivated by nutrition or by a desire to keep things new and exciting at the University, are all about providing students with as wide a range of choices as possible and enabling them to make those choices.

“At the end of the day we have a great salad bar and a great fryer—students have choices 20 feet away [from each other]. I don’t think any of us would ever change that,” Siddiqui said.