Creating a Safe Dining Experience

University Housing and Dining offers resources for guests with special diets

Every year over 8,422 individuals choose to take advantage of the on-campus dining experience with a variety of meal plan options. Taking advantage of University Housing and Dining’s meal plan options also means access to food that meets a student’s dietary needs. University Housing and Dining embraces the challenge to serve guests with special diets. Individuals with food allergies are constantly battling to find foods that they not only enjoy but that taste good and are safe for them to consume. As a result, it was important to the dining team to make the process as simple as possible. To ensure that everyone who dines in the market places has a safe and enjoyable experience, there are several resources available including University Housing and Dining’s dietitian and allergy-free station.

Resources and Support
Helping students with dietary needs and food allergies is not only a priority for dining, but a necessity. “Students today, more than ever, have special diets for a variety of reasons. Part of my position is to help them with their accommodations and ensure that they have a safe dining experience,” says Laura Croteau, RD, LD. Croteau is University Housing and Dining’s registered dietitian.

While her role is to primarily help individuals with dietary needs, her services are not restricted to those with allergies. Croteau also assists individuals in navigating the dining halls, explaining how to make healthy choices, working with a team of chefs to create a customized meal plan, and more. Although many assume Croteau’s services are only offered to students with meal plans, all undergrad students, graduate students, and staff are encouraged to take advantage of the support, free of charge.

In addition to Croteau’s services, Thrive, located in Burge Market Place, is a station where students can enjoy meals made with their special diets in mind. Thrive opened in 2018 and was implemented as a proactive approach to meeting the needs and expectations of customers with special dietary needs. This station stands out from the rest as it is free of gluten and the top eight food allergies (fish, shellfish, egg, wheat, soy, peanuts, tree nuts, and milk). Crystal Bounds, Burge Market Place chef, was instrumental in the creation and implementation of the station. Bounds works to test recipe options and create a four-week menu cycle. “In the beginning it was a challenge," said Bounds. “It was hard to overcome the perception that food without specific ingredients and allergens tastes bad. It was important to me to craft menu items that not only meet the criteria for these allergens but that taste good.” Bounds’s team along with the station’s four-week menu cycle work hard to ensure a variety of options with great flavor for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, and desserts.

One of the main challenges of providing a safe dining space is the risk of cross-contact. This was important in the creation of the station to provide a space where this was not an issue. Outside of omitting the primary food allergens, the meals that are prepared for Thrive are all made in a controlled area of the kitchen, and the dining staff undergoes specific allergy training. This training involves being certified on food allergies, celiac disease, and food intolerances/sensitivities through AllerTrain. Additionally, the dining staff are also trained to serve the guests rather than the traditional market place model where guests serve themselves. These changes work together to decrease the risk for cross-contact through utensil/food contact and provide a safe dining space that guests can rely on.

Ensuring Success
University Housing and Dining is committed to creating a safe and enjoyable dining experience. Croteau’s services and the addition of the Thrive station are just two ways the University of Iowa has evolved with the changing expectations and preferences of prospective students. Croteau recognizes that food is an important part of healthy living. “The University Housing and Dining team works hard to accommodate the dietary needs of students because market places are a huge part of the college experience and overall success,” said Croteau. “All guest that we serve deserve quality food, regardless of their allergies, so that they can thrive on a daily basis,” says Bounds.

If you or someone you know could benefit from any of our dietary resources visit dining.uiowa.edu for more information.