Busy class schedules, new experiences and late-night studying can make it difficult for college students to practice healthy-eating habits — a challenge that can be even greater for students with food allergies.
UW–Platteville intends to change this with the opening of the new all-you-care-to-eat dining facility in the Bridgeway Commons residence hall this fall. The facility will replace Platters, the Glenview Commons dining facility.
“Food allergies are much more prevalent now than they were even 10 years ago,” said Mike Ernst, director of UW–Platteville Dining Services.
According to the nonprofit organization Food Allergy Research and Education, one in every 13 children younger than 18 has a food allergy.
“Those are the future students we are preparing for,” said Ernst, who also noted that the number of vegetarians and vegans on campus is growing.
According to Ernst, the challenge is accommodating all special dietary needs without wasting food. Making large quantities of meals that do not fit everyone’s specific dietary needs often results in food that is not immediately used, not served fresh and ultimately wasted.
Two concepts Ernst refers to as “mass customization” and “deconstruction” help to avoid this problem.
“It comes down to deconstructing each menu and giving people the ability to customize their meal,” he said. “Each station in the dining facility is built to be actionable and customizable. Students will see us make their meal in front of them, and they will always have multiple choices to make it however they want to.”
While each station in the dining facility is designed to be flexible – offering a different type of food each day – there will always be at least one station, each day, that offers a gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan option.
At the entrance of the dining facility will be a special dietary needs station. Designed for those who may have a food-specific allergy or gluten sensitivity, the station consists of an individual refrigerator and freezer, and a gluten-free toaster and microwave, ensuring no cross-contamination with other foods.
“A lot of schools will have a food court in one area and a gluten-free restaurant in another area,” said Ernst. “I don’t think those with special dietary needs should have to be separated from everyone else. The station should blend in, and be able to be accessed quickly.”