Food, glorious food: Going behind the scenes with Director of University Nutrition Connie Diekman
This term, used to describe the trend of a weight gain around 15 pounds occurring during freshman year, is no stranger to conversation at Washington University, a school ranked ninth amongst all colleges by the Princeton Review in best food and a place where free food is omnipresent.
Although it may seem difficult to avoid these usually unhealthy offerings or the yearning for a late-night half-and-half at Bear’s Den, Wash. U. provides students with many ways to prevent the dreaded college weight gain, including menu items marked as “Connie’s Choice.”
A native of St. Louis, Connie Diekman received her bachelor’s degree in food and nutrition-dietetics at Fontbonne College (now Fontbonne University) and earned her master’s of education in counseling at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.
She later became the voice of the “Eating Right” minute on WBBM radio in Chicago. Her motivation behind the “Eating Right” minute and her nutrition reporting for local Fox and NBC affiliate stations was to “turn nutrition science into something practical, something that people will understand and use to make healthy changes in their lives.”
Making nutrition practical has also been the impetus for “Connie’s Choice.” Following a series of specific guidelines, Wash. U. chefs develop recipes for foods with 20-35 percent of calories coming from fats, low amounts of sodium, and lean meat or plant-based protein to attain Diekman’s stamp of approval.
“It’s about making it easy,” Diekman said. “Students can just walk into Bear’s Den or Cafe Bergson and pick something that says ‘Connie’s Choice’ on it. They can know they’ve made a healthy decision without having to look up the nutrition facts of various items.”
However, if students do feel the desire to know the breakdown of nutrients in the foods they are consuming, they can visit the Dining Services website at diningservices.wustl.edu, which has a link to daily menus for all eateries on campus as well as the related nutritional information.
Returning students may have noticed some changes within Dining Services enacted over this past summer, such as the addition of vegetables to the pasta action station in Bear’s Den; an expansion of available vegetarian proteins such as tofu, beans and soy meat; a frozen yogurt machine in Whisper’s Cafe; new Mediterranean food options at Ursa’s Fireside; and new “Connie’s Choice” items.
Additionally, in an effort to make more dining areas suitable for people with food allergies and intolerances, peanuts have been removed from all dishes and open containers of peanut butter have been removed from all food preparation areas, with the exception of the Cherry Tree Cafe.
“Basically, we follow what the students do and then change accordingly,” said Diekman. This has been the motivation for Fasano’s Diner’s move to the Village as well as the development of healthier bakery items and a new system for a grab-and-go trail mix.
Of course, one cannot leave Diekman’s office without asking her for a few tips on how to prevent the dreaded “Freshman 15.” She responded, jokingly, “The food you saw on your first day will still be here in May. You don’t need to try everything within the first month; pace yourself.”