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'Simple Servings' caters to students with allergies and other dietary needs

January 31, 2013 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

With approximately 4 percent of the U.S. population having some sort of food allergy, Liberty University, in collaboration with Sodexo, its dining services provider, works hard to ensure the dietary needs of students, faculty, and staff are being met.

Simple Servings, a new station at Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, offers minimally processed, tasty food options prepared without gluten or seven of the eight most common food allergens: milk, eggs, soy, tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, and wheat.

“The response has been very positive,” said Robin Quay, Sodexo’s registered dietitian for Liberty. “Simple Servings is one of the most popular areas at the dining hall, for students with and without allergies. The food offered there is simple, minimally processed, and delicious. Parents of students with allergies are especially appreciative of the offerings we have for their students … they can send their students to Liberty with the confidence that any dietary requirements will be properly handled.”

Senior John Upton has a severe allergy to gluten and dairy and appreciates the diversity of the food served at Simple Servings.

“The dishes they serve there are great, really tasty, and delicious,” he said.

Liberty has offered gluten and dairy-free options for several years, but now they are being offered on a larger scale.

Implemented in Fall 2012 as a pilot program for Sodexo, Simple Servings has made it significantly easier for students like Upton to enjoy the dining hall experience with friends. In the past, Upton would have to ask the chef to cook something special for him, which could take time. Now he can quickly and with confidence find products that are safe to eat.

Quay and Peter Jerominek, executive chef, work together to regularly update the menu to align with what’s trending for students and ensure plenty of good nutritional options are available. They meet with every student who has dietary restrictions to make sure their needs and likes are met.

“Knowing about customer preferences and limitations allows us to plan our menu to best meet everyone’s needs,” Quay said. “We are happy to explore the dining hall with students and point out options they have both at Simple Servings and throughout the dining hall.”

All staff members are trained about the risks of food allergies and to properly handle foods to avoid cross-contamination. A fresh plate must be used each time at the platform.

“Everything (at Simple Servings) is cooked separately using different pans and utensils to help prevent cross-contamination,” Jerominek said. “Our platform cooks are trained in food allergies before starting at that platform. We go as far as having one of the platform cooks out at the platform to make sure students aren't cross-contaminating.”

If a student cannot find something they can eat or do not like the selections, they can place a special order.

“The chefs at Liberty dining have been more than accommodating,” Upton said.

Sophomore Cherone Odellas has several food allergies and appreciates the personal touch. Before she learned of her food allergies, Odellas became very ill when she would eat, and after discovering the allergy, she struggled to get the nutrition her body needed. Jerominek and the team at Liberty dining “saved” her, she said. Not only does Jerominek make her meals, he consults her to make sure her choices are balanced nutritionally and in line with what she enjoys eating.

Quay is available to discuss dietary concerns or nutritional needs with students. She also provides many quality resources online, including a blog and Dietitian Picks, which highlights the most nutrient-dense offerings at each of Liberty’s dining locations, and a cookbook of healthy recipes that can be made utilizing only standard residence hall appliances — a microwave and refrigerator.

At the dining hall and Tilley Fresh Market Buffet in Green Hall, signs provide important nutrition information as well as any common allergens that may have been used in preparation.

Quay and Jerominek teach several free cooking workshops each semester (read more).

Liberty strives to meet the needs of its increasingly growing student population, and their health is no exception. This includes ensuring students are provided with resources to promote well-rounded health — in body, mind, and spirit. The university provides programs, activities, recreational facilities, and dining options as diverse as its student population. For more information on Student Activities, programs, and facilities, visit the Campus Recreation website. For dining, visit www.LibertyDining.com.