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Liberty dining hall ranked No. 1 for second year in a row

Liberty University's Reber-Thomas Dining Hall was ranked No. 1 by BestColleges.com.
Liberty University’s Reber-Thomas Dining Hall was ranked No. 1 by BestColleges.com for the second straight year.

Liberty University’s Reber-Thomas Dining Hall, operated by Sodexo, recently received its second consecutive No. 1 ranking on the BestColleges.com list of Best Dining Halls.

The ranking was based on multiple factors, including the use of fresh ingredients and diversity of offerings, as well as the dining hall’s innovation in food sourcing, waste reduction, and other sustainable practices.

Liberty ranked ahead of Kennesaw State University, the University of California-Berkeley, Emory University, and UMass-Amherst, which rounded out the top five. Other schools highlighted included No. 11 UC San Diego, No. 12 Yale, No. 13 Virginia Tech, No. 14 UCLA, and No. 15 MIT.

“When I found out we received the number one ranking again I was so excited for my team,” said Louis Cambeletta, Liberty’s director of food service operations. “To know that the hard work that is put in every day to stay focused and innovative for our students, faculty, and staff, is paying off is very rewarding.  We are honored and very humbled to be recognized with this award two years in a row.”

BestColleges.com lauded Reber-Thomas Dining Hall’s food service program for its focus on serving students, faculty, and staff healthy food choices at 18 unique stations.

Louis Cambeletta, Liberty's director of food services, speaks at the conference.
Louis Cambeletta, Liberty University’s director of food service operations, speaks at the National Association for College and University Food Service Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference, Tuesday morning in the Tower Theater.

“Reber-Thomas Dining Hall is unlike anything in the university dining segment,” Cambeletta said. “What makes it so unique is that each station prepares its food right in front of the students so that they can see all of the fresh ingredients being prepared right before their eyes.”

Liberty has been recognized nationally for its efforts to provide a top-notch dining atmosphere on campus. It was ranked among the Top 10 Gluten Free Accommodating Colleges and made the top 10 list of the most gluten-free friendly college campuses by Examiner.com.

“Liberty has developed one of the nation’s best gluten-free dining experiences, and in the Simple Servings station, offers food free from seven of the eight most prominent food allergens,” the BestColleges.com site notes.

Liberty’s Dining Services was also recently recognized by Food Management, a website that reviews restaurants across the United States based on hospitality and overall food quality.

Throughout the year, the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall offers special events, tastings, and themed menus to keep students engaged and interested in their dining plan, as well as to teach them about forming healthy eating habits.

This week, Liberty has an opportunity to showcase its innovative dining services to the industry as it is hosting the 2016 National Association for College and University Food Service (NACUFS) Mid-Atlantic Region Conference. More than 30 colleges were represented by their industry food service leaders, chefs, and vendor partners.

The conference started Sunday with a culinary challenge in the Kirkley Hotel Grand Ballroom, with chefs from various schools competing by cooking their own recipes for conference attendees and judges. The conference included a breakout session with former Flames Football and current New York Giants running back Rashad Jennings and a healthy cooking demonstration on Monday morning in the LaHaye Event Space.

Jamie Swyers, Liberty's associate director of recreation and programs, gives a talk.
Jamie Swyers, associate director of fitness and programs at the LaHaye Recreation & Fitness Center, addresses conference attendees Tuesday in the Tower Theater.

On Tuesday, in one of the breakout sessions held in the Tower Theater, Jamie Swyers, Liberty’s associate director of fitness and programs at the LaHaye Recreation & Fitness Center, talked about the power of partnership in implementing the Live Healthy Liberty initiative, launched in 2014. The program seeks to bring together departments and coordinate efforts to improve the spiritual, mental, and physical health of students, faculty, and staff. The mission of Live Healthy Liberty is “to create and sustain a healthy campus culture that educates, motivates, and empowers people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyle behaviors.”

Swyers said the ripple effect of focusing on health and wellness — including an emphasis on regular exercise and healthy eating habits — is far-reaching.

“Every single year, we graduate a batch of seniors that are going out into the workforce,” she said. “They are going out and having their own sphere of influence in their communities and in their families and in their workplaces. If we can change how they look at health and wellness here, then they will change the world.”

Liberty engages its students, faculty, and staff in a holistic wellness approach that encompasses mind, body, and spirit — mental, physical, and spiritual health. Swyers and her LaHaye Student Un
ion staff have enlisted support from many other departments, including Student Counseling, the Morris Campus Farm, and Student Activities, which offers weekly Wellness Series speakers and workshops as well as a Health and Wellness Expo in the fall, to help achieve Live Healthy Liberty’s objectives.

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