University Dining Services to Upgrade Style and Menu

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(The Daily Utah Chronicle Archives)

By Connor Applegate

 

The Peterson Heritage Center (PHC) will be getting significant upgrades to its dining services that are expected to commence Fall 2019 and continue in several phases through Fall 2020. The project has based its plans on student-driven research derived primarily from focus groups with the goal of determining the best means of creating a vibrant dining atmosphere. Though the focus is primarily on facilities, the project also highlights student health outreach.

 

PHC Refresh Dining Area Project

“What we are looking to create in PHC is more of a classy feel than a cafeteria look,” said Fa’amai Taupa’u, associate director of Dining Services at the University of Utah. “Ultimately, we want a pleasant student experience away from student life where they are able to enjoy a good meal, whether that’s with your peers and friends or by yourself.”

The U is still in the planning stage of the development of the PHC Refresh Dining Area. One of the expected highlights of the Refresh project is increased seating for students. This will be accomplished primarily by removing private meeting rooms to make room for additional seats. There is currently a balcony adjacent to the dining area that will be accessible to students following construction.

“The best views of the area will be available from that balcony for students,” Taupa’u said. By removing several walls, additional space will be created to add a lounge area complete with television monitors meant to encourage students to relax for an extended amount of time after finishing their meal. This lounge will be divided from the dining area by a glass wall, which will be added in the space currently occupied by walls blocking off private meeting rooms.

(The Daily Utah Chronicle Archives)

To further improve students’ dining experience, there will be changes to the reception area students first see upon climbing the stairs to the new dining area on the second floor of the PHC. The wall mural in the building’s rotunda will also be getting a new look. “We want a restaurant feel,” Taupa’u said.

Rotisserie-style chicken ovens will be on display in the background of the selection areas. Taupa’u said, “We use chicken all of the time in our meals, so it will be just something interesting for students to see as they enter the area to give a more vibrant experience.”

Other updates will include the replacement of the flooring and furniture in the dining area, some of which has been in place for around 20 years. Other design elements have lasted just as long.

The project will aim to avoid being invasive to student life in PHC as the fall semester starts this year. Construction will occur in separate phases, with dining closures occurring section by section to continue to provide uninterrupted student services during renovations. The initial phase will include the introduction of the new menu concept. The removal of walls, as well as the update to the rotunda mural, will also be prioritized in this initial phase. Beyond that, it will take as long as necessary to complete the project. With the need to accommodate student life, a timeline for construction will be extended to meet any demands in order to avoid compromising design concepts.

 

More Than Just Looks

The upgrade to dining services encompasses more than just an aesthetic change. It will include changes to the content of student meals as well. Based on student feedback emphasizing a popular desire for Italian cuisine, a pasta bar will be a primary menu update. The menu revamp will also give special attention to the Mongolian grill selection.

“Students played a huge role in planning,” said Taupa’u. The University Residence Hall Association (RHA), the student advocacy organization within Housing & Residential Education, was an active force in developing the current vision for the dining upgrades, both in design and cuisine selection.

The PHC revamp incorporates development from across campus. Furniture tests being conducted for the construction of the new South Campus building will provide important information that will be used in PHC construction. For Taupa’u, defining integrated themes beyond individual developments will only further improve the student experience and add additional elements to the culture of the U. “Open dialogue between the university and students is essential,”  Taupa’u said.

This interaction with the students is highlighted in the cuisine variety, which considers the dietary restrictions and choices of many students. One of the project’s main concerns includes identifying trends that need to be accomodated. Once again, Taupa’u emphasized again the need for staff to be accessible to students. “We want to have food that they love in summer, food that they love in winter and food in the autumn. Our menus should always be changing while still including variety by including vegetarian options, as just one example.”

Current procedures for these cases are stated on the U’s Housing & Residential Education website. “For most, we have a solution. In the Peterson Heritage Center Dining Room, there is a special line called G8, where meals are prepared without the 8 most common allergens: dairy, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree-nuts, soy, wheat/gluten. Our team of chefs work to do their best to avoid cross-contamination, but they cannot guarantee that the meal will be 100% allergen-free. Students will also find a vegan focused location in the Dining Room that is prepared by our dedicated vegan chef.”

 

(The Daily Utah Chronicle Archives)

Anticipating Students’ Dietary Needs

Nutrition is a major concern for college students, as time and financial demands often place physical health at a lower priority. While meal variety within dining services is a boon to students living on campus, other resources on campus can help with health information for all students. The U’s Student Wellness Center website includes an entry on student diet. To quote from the entry: “Half of your plate should be fruits and vegetables. Avoid oversized portions of food by using smaller plates and bowls. A good visual for portion sizes for each meal: a fistful of protein, a fistful of carbohydrates and two fistfuls of veggies and/or fruits.”

Other recommendations say to be sure a source of fat is present in each meal. A lot of vitamins and minerals rely on fat in order to be absorbed into the body. Fat also helps you feel fuller, longer. The Center also suggests that unless needed for medical reasons, “try not to restrict yourself from food.”

The month of March is recognized as National Nutrition Month. This year’s theme is “Eat Right for Your Lifestyle,” a theme that U Health is encouraging. U Health clarified the theme’s goal in a recent article, “You are an individual with your own personal food preferences. Instead of feeling as though you should eat certain foods for health promotion, you may find there are several nutritious foods you actually want to eat because of how they taste and make you feel.”

The article also said that research suggests leaving room to eat food for pleasure actually promotes moderation. Creating a lifestyle around nutrition includes taking the time to pursue cooking if the individual is willing to make that kind of commitment. The primary focus according to the U Health is to have achievable aims when it comes to diet. Small, incremental changes in habit and outlook make the biggest difference. “Taking small steps encourages you to establish healthy eating habits that last a lifetime. You are bound to have a few hiccups along your journey to balanced nutrition. Instead of getting frustrated, explore them with compassion and curiosity to gain insight into what triggered your setback. This will help you navigate difficult situations more easily in the future.”

An article in Newsweek released last November ranking all 50 states based on health statistics said that Utah provided a shining example for the rest of America when it came to obesity levels. “Utah has managed to keep its child obesity levels the lowest in the nation, and has the lowest percentage of adults with Type 2 diabetes,” said the article. Yet, Utah still faces the same national health crisis related to obesity and cardiovascular health.

Based on how they eat, college students may garner implicit risks to their mental capabilities. A study published in the journal Neurology on March 6 suggests that young adults with heart-healthy diets may be protecting their brains in middle age. Although scientists don’t know of an ideal diet that improves brain health, eating heart-healthy foods could be a simple way to reduce the risk for developing psychological health problems as we age.

The goal of a university is only to facilitate education and research. Student life is something that can only be influenced, not directed. As other student concerns related to campus safety affirm, there is only so much that can be facilitated by the U. Education and connectivity across campus, “promotes a culture created by and for students,” said Taupa’u.

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@ApplegateConnor