Retail and Residential Dining are Slowly Building Better Reputations
As students adjust to life on campus, many turn to retail and resident dining areas to provide their meals and to offer a space where students can socialize until their next activity begins. Amid mixed feelings across the University at Albany about the quality, variety, and healthiness of the food offered on campus, I investigated the satisfaction level of some students who eat at the Campus Center and the residential dining halls, to hear their thoughts.
Out of 13 students I interviewed, ranging from freshman to seniors, and from off-campus to residents, all of them said they preferred the Campus Center dining to the residential dining. When asked to describe how they felt about the food that was being served at the Campus Center, positive words were evoked, most common were sentiments of, “more variety” and “better overall quality”.
“There are definitely more options and variety available, and I do not have to worry about the option to eat unhealthy when I’m there,” said Mackenzie Mekeel, a freshman resident and criminal justice major from Rochester, NY, of the Campus Center food. “Even if the retail dining is more expensive and has smaller portions compared to residential, I am more satisfied with the overall quality of food at CC.”
In contrast, when asked to describe how students felt about the food being served at the Residential Dining Halls, the word choice was more negative, common opinions including, “less variety” and “more unhealthy choices available”.
“I have noticed that out of all the Residential Dining Halls, Indian provides the healthiest food year after year,” said Emily Zimmerman, who is a senior communications major and an off-campus student also from Rochester, NY. “However, even after all the efforts I have seen throughout my four years at UAlbany, the increase in residential food quality has still been minimal.”
I sat down at the Indian Quad Dining Hall on Thursday with Sodexo General Manager Rick Jones, to better understand how the university is cycling the food options that are provided at the Halls using the 5-Week Cycle Menu.
“Certain meals will always be in the dining halls, other open meal options will be switched up from lunch to dinner. You will not see the same lunch for 5 weeks, instead you may see lunch repeated as dinner after some time has passed,” said Jones.
Jones emphasizes the tradition of keeping staple foods such as hamburgers and fries in the dining halls but also trying to switch up the times when they are served. To understand what the university is currently implementing towards healthy eating, I spoke with Campus Dietician Donna Duffy who introduced me to the Mindful program by Sodexo. Each station at Indian and State has at least one Mindful option where students, using the BITE app or looking at a framed menu at each restaurant, can visibly see which meals meet the USDA guidelines for “Healthy Americans”. In August 2018, Duffy also brought in professional chefs to train the dining hall staff how to reduce the cholesterol content in foods and maintain appropriate serving sizes.
Although the campus auxiliary services are actively trying to improve the quality of their food, the development of better communication between the students and the staff about the new programs implemented such as Mindful, have been slow. As a result, across campus, the overall Resident Dining food reputation has been slow to improve.