What's New With Our Food: Changes in dining services for the new year

Dining Halls like Buckley will see noticeable changes this year. (Charlotte Lao/The Daily Campus)

As University of Connecticut Dining Services continue to work on their objectives to offer more plant-based dishes and reduce food waste, they have elected to implement some changes for the start of the 2017-18 academic year, including changes to the unpopular blended burger.

Last semester, in compliance with the principle of reducing the use of red meat, dining services swapped out traditional hamburgers for a half mushroom, half beef “blended burger,” a change which was not met well by all students.  

In response, dining services worked on educating their chefs on how to properly prepare the blended burgers as well as asking the manufacturer to increase the proportion of beef in the burger.  

“Over the summer we went back to the manufacturer and we said the response that we got was not overwhelming,” Dennis Pierce, Executive Director of Dining Services, said.

The manufacturer has agreed to shift the percentage to 60 percent beef, 30 percent mushroom and 10 percent herbs and spices.

The newly proportioned burgers will make their debut in dining halls once the inventory of the old burgers dining services is obligated to purchase have been used, Pierce said.

“Yes we listened, yes we made the change, but I think we still held true to the philosophy of why we wanted to do it,” Pierce said.

In addition, there will be several new food items offered at residential dining halls starting this fall including red lentil and chickpea pastas, which are gluten free and high in protein.

This is part of a larger initiative called the Menus of Change initiative, which advocates several principles for college dining halls in the hopes of crafting healthier, more sustainable menus.

“So many students love pasta, but are also trying to avoid the unnecessary carbohydrates.  These pastas have about 40 percent less carbohydrates than your standard wheat penne,” Rob Landolphi, UConn Culinary Operations manager, said. “Both pastas are also gluten free, but most importantly, (they) taste delicious.”

Some new recipes include couscous with shredded jerk chicken, quinoa congee with coconut milk, bulgogi mushroom burritos, baked quinoa falafel, whole grain ravioli, butternut noodles with Italian sausages and stuffed sweet potatoes.

“I have had all of them and they are absolutely amazing,” Landolphi said. “Some of my personal favorites are the red lentil penne caponata and the chickpea rotini with Cajun cream sauce.”

So many students love pasta, but are also trying to avoid the unnecessary carbohydrates.  These pastas have about 40 percent less carbohydrates than your standard wheat penne.
— Dennis Pierce

Dining services began serving the red lentil pasta last semester and has received positive feedback, Landolphi said.

“Many students commented that they can’t believe how much it tastes likes regular penne or rotini,” Landolphi said. “That’s what makes these pastas so versatile, we can substitute them in any pasta dish, and make it so much healthier.”

These dishes will be offered at all dining units beginning in the fall semester.

As part of an effort to reduce food waste, cereal will be served in plastic dispensers in residential dining halls as opposed to traditional cereal boxes.

“When we looked at it, what we were experiencing is that partial boxes were being thrown out; there was waste,” Pierce said, “We’re hoping this will have significant cost savings, there is a difference between buying retail boxes and buying cases of cereal.”

Pierce said the variety of cereal options will not be as extensive as it previously was due to limitations in counter space for the dispensers.

“Last spring, we did a survey to determine what’s the favorite cereals and that’s how we determined what we were going to buy,” Pierce said.

Additionally, dining services is looking to create a “mini meal plan” for students who arrive on campus early.

“The numbers (of early move-ins) have increased significantly, we’re going to scramble to adapt to those incoming numbers. We’re going to create a mini meal plan that lasts one week,” Pierce said. “We have a lot of students coming here thinking the meal plan starts, but the reality is that it doesn’t start until Friday.”

Each unit will host a themed dinner based on one of the principles of the Menus of Change initiative.

Last year, themes included a Build Your Own Power Bowl night at North campus dining hall and a night to promote awareness about sodium intake at Northwest.     

Last spring, Dining Services announced they would be closing Lu’s Café and Buckley Dining Hall will not be open on the weekends, to conserve costs.

“We have geared up (so) that South and Whitney will be able to handle their extra numbers,” Pierce said.

Dining Services has also moved from its previous location in the Bishop Center to the first floor of the Wade Keller Building in Towers.

“I have students living on top of me,” Pierce said, “To be in the midst of students, that’s awesome.”


Anna Zarra Aldrich is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at anna.aldrich@uconn.edu. She tweets @ZarraAnna.