For some, eating at a buffet is the equivalent of an all-you-can-eat feast, which is not exactly conducive to healthy eating. Larson Commons, although a buffet-style food establishment, is working toward serving students healthy, quality food.
When presented with a buffet, it may not always be easy to eat healthy when there are burgers made to order. The best way to combat this, according to wellness coordinator Mariah Weber, is going to Larson’s, or wherever you dine, with a plan.
“If you go into any food-court-style establishment with a plan, that helps,” Weber said. “If you go just to browse, you tend to make unhealthy decisions. People often go to a buffet and only want to make one trip and tend to overload. Instead, they should start with their salad, for example, and think about what they might get after seeing their options, and then return for their entrée.”
Doug Wermedal, associate vice President for student affairs said initially grabbing too much food is an issue when eating at a buffet. The university came up with a simple solution to aid this problem, among others, Wermedal said.
“We’re trying to present variety, but not overindulgence. We got rid of trays to help counteract that so students won’t overload a tray with food,” Wermedal said. “Not only does this help with overconsumption, but I believe this was a smart move sustainability-wise. There was an evident volume of unconsumed food with trays — getting rid of trays has helped cut down on food waste.”
Campus Dish is one way for students to better plan their meals and eat well. Campus Dish is a website and app students can use to check the menu every day at Larson’s, as well as all campus dining locations.
Wermedal said this service allows students to see everything on the menu, from main entrées to raisins and applesauce on the salad bar. Campus Dish also provides nutrition facts on all foods, allowing students to compare their options.
The university has worked the past few years to improve healthy food options on campus, as well as food quality, particularly at Larson’s.
The university observed student satisfaction with Larson’s was low for a while, Wermedal said. With less students eating at Larson’s, he said, implementing improved programs was needed.
These improvements started several years ago with upgrading the environment of Larson’s, Wermedal said, making a comfortable atmosphere to dine and hang out, promoting social connectivity amongst students.
Next, Wermedal said they are working to offer healthier foods and improve quality. One step was getting a new $50,000 salad bar, which also features a hot bar for soups.
Additionally, revamping the menu with contemporary recipes is of high priority to Wermedal, as well as Dennis Nord, new chef manager at Larson’s.
With a new menu every semester, Nord said they are always trying to provide more restaurant-quality food. Nord, who started at SDSU in July, said he has already seen improvement with gluten-free and vegetarian options, and overall healthier, better quality food.
Weber said she tries to eat at Larson’s once a week to keep in tune with students’ experience.
“I’d say Larson’s is the healthiest place on campus,” Weber said. “I think they do a good job of providing variety and catering to different needs on campus.”
Nord highlighted Aramark’s latest program “Feed Your Potential,” which strives for healthy food options, as well as educating consumers to make sound food choices. Making healthy decisions and planning are the key to healthy eating, according to Weber.
The latest program change to help improve Larson’s, Wermedal said, was altering the meal plan, adding a required amount of blocks to flex meal plans.
“Getting students eating at Larson’s is critical to good recipe building,” Wermedal said. “We needed to implement some program change at Larson’s to get [attendance] numbers up, which would allow us to do the kind of recipes we wanted to do for students.”
Nord said university staff are working to give students “the quality of product they deserve and are paying for with their meal plan.”
With the new meal plan requirement, Nord and Wermedal said their goal is not to force students to eat at Larson’s, but to make it an affordable, preferred and healthy option as part of their meal plan.
“We don’t want students to feel like they have to be here,” Nord said. “We want to give them a positive experience so that they want to be here. We want Larson’s to be a place for students to socialize, relax and have a good, healthy meal.”