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In partnership with a health science class, the Dinging for Life team engaged with guests to make their best guess on what snacks had the most sugar in them.

College dining focuses on wellness engagement

Bob Jones University’s Dining for Life makes health the focus of campus dining

Dining for Life, a program originally created for students with specific dietary needs, is now the driving force of the entire foodservice program at Bob Jones University (BJU) in Greenville, S.C. “About five years ago, we had almost a hundred students approach our dietitian with their diet needs so we created Dining for Life to help them manage any allergen concerns and more,” says Brent Wustman, BJU Dining’s senior general manager with Aramark. “But the more alternate menus and clean-eating initiatives we introduced, we found that there was more interest from all of our students across the board to eat healthier and have more transparent menus.”

While Dining for Life initially focused on simply accommodating students with diet restrictions, it has evolved to touch almost every aspect of campus dining. For example, every station in the dining hall now has a plant-powered dish every day at every meal. There's also a veggie station that focuses on just vegetables and that also includes a sweet potato bar every day.

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Student Nutrition Intern Noelle Sheridan, along with Executive Chef Ralph, sampled fresh vegetable quinoa salad to highlight making a switch to whole grains, while Student Nutritionist Christine Williams tried a lemon and red quinoa salad, and gluten-free pizza crust was also available.

Assisted by a registered dietitian, Dining for Life also hosts quarterly wellness expos where students receive general health checkups, blood pressure screenings and free nutrition coaching. There’s two monthly pop-up carts that feature vegetables grown from the university garden and a sampling table in the dining hall a few times a month. “Giving out samples creates a safe zone for people to try new food without risking money if they don’t like it,” says Wustman. “We encourage students to try more rare seasonal fruit like dragon fruit or new ingredients like red quinoa that will be part of our salad bar. We handed out well over 15,000 samples last year alone.” Wustman adds that the samples are provided alongside information on the food’s nutritional value and how to incorporate the featured food into meals.

As part of the Dining for Life program, a weekly newsletter is emailed to the entire student body to present nutrition topics, share recipes, discuss upcoming dining events and highlight new items on campus menus. For instance, the school’s on-campus Latin dining location Esteban’s recently started serving gluten-free tacos and corn tortillas as well as plant-powered entrees. Dairy-free gelato was introduced at the university convenience store; the campus Papa John’s has gluten-free crust; and the coffee shop switched all of its crepe batter to be free of gluten. “The newsletter is key to sharing what's going on and makes it easier for students to direct their eating choices on campus,” says Wustman.

The Dining for Life team also hosts monthly catered dinners with about 25 students to gather feedback and determine future menu offerings. Engagement is central to the success of the program, says Wustman, who says it can be as simple as handing out fresh fruit at events. “Our students attend chapel every day,” he says. “So one day we set up an Apple a Day booth outside and handed out a thousand apples in under 15 minutes.”

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Students from the health science class and the winner of the healthy snacking basket.

He says part of the reason they have been able to expand the program over the years is through a partnership with the university’s Health Sciences division. “Our fastest growing major is health sciences right now at the school,” says Wustman. “We expanded from one to two student interns a semester who man the sampling booths, work on the newsletter and help with events, for instance. The partnership has really worked well, and we’ve been able to more than triple the Dining for Life events we host each year.”

Offering a holistic dining solution for every student at Bob Jones University has had a positive impact on campus dining participation. “We have seen an average of 10% growth of our voluntary meal plans during the same time year over year,” says Wustman. They also branching off campus to conduct three to four events at the local South Carolina Governors School for the Arts and Humanity to help educate high school students on the choices they make and how it impacts their health.

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