Students with special diet needs have a welcoming place at Wellesley College. The private women’s liberal arts college, located west of Boston in Wellesley, Mass., operates a dining service that features…
• an entire dining hall for kosher-compliant vegetarians,
• a nut-free dining hall,
• a dining station called Clarity that serves foods free of gluten and eight major food allergens,
• a special cooler in each dining hall with gluten-free foods,
• a special room where those with gluten intolerance can prepare their own meals and
• a completely nut-free campus bake shop.
“We have always had options available for students with gluten intolerances, but the program has seen a large expansion over the last three to four years,” says Cherie Tyger, resident director of the Wellesley Fresh campus dining program for management company AVI Foodsystems. “The [number] of students with allergies and intolerances has skyrocketed over the last several years. Since we were trying to accommodate such a large group of students with allergies and intolerances, we really felt it important to develop a program that sufficiently accommodated their needs. We wanted to make it as easy as possible for them and make them feel that they were getting just as good of a program as a student without allergies or intolerances.”
Each of the three campus dining halls have some kind of accommodation for special diet needs.
Pomeroy is the vegetarian and kosher dining hall on campus. It also offers students gluten-sensitive pizza upon request and has a self-service cooler that contains gluten-sensitive items such as pre-packaged desserts, bread, butter, peanut butter, cream cheese and tomato sauce.
Bates Dining Hall has a newly renovated Gluten Sensitive Room designed specifically for students with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity, who have to request access and attend a training session with the Wellesley Fresh dietitian before they can gain entry. The room has a microwave, toaster, refrigerator and induction burners, and is stocked with pre-packed gluten-free bread products, cereals and other like items. Its refrigerator contains everything needed to prepare a gluten-sensitive plate reflective of the meals offered in the dining hall each day.
Finally, Tower Dining Hall is nut-free, offering students housemade sunflower butter as an alternative to traditional peanut butter. Tower also incorporates Clarity, a food station that is free of the eight major allergens and also accommodates students with gluten sensitivities. Gluten-sensitive students also have access to a gluten-sensitive station at Tower that is equipped with its own toaster, refrigerator, pre-packaged gluten- free bread products, cooked gluten-sensitive pasta, condiments and other specialty items.
In addition, printed menus are posted at every station in the dining halls, listing ingredients and identifying the top eight food allergens (eggs, fish, milk, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat) present in each with icons. The menus are also posted on the Wellesley Fresh website.
Also, gluten-free cereals and pre-packaged desserts can be found across campus, and gluten free pasta is available upon request. All dining halls offer several alternatives to dairy milk, including plain soy milk, vanilla soy milk, chocolate soy milk, Lactaid, plain almond and chocolate almond milk (except at nut-free Tower) and rice milk.
Clarity grew out of a small allergen-free station that had served an entrée for each meal. “Approximately two years ago we decided that the need was there to create a more diverse program,” Tyger explains. “We wanted to dedicate an entire station to allergen-free dining and we rebranded it our ‘Clarity Station.’”
Clarity is a full-service station where items are cooked in small quantities and plated restaurant style.
“We wanted to make sure that students with allergies were getting just as great of a program as the students without,” says Tyger. “Honestly, the food should be so great that you aren’t even aware that its allergen friendly or missing anything.”
The station is open to all diners and offers a wide array of choices for students seven days a week with options ranging from Cuban grilled pork with mojo and braised chicken with Italian greens to turkey enchiladas served with refried beans and Spanish rice.
“This station is quite busy because the students just treat it as another option rather than a station that’s only available to students with allergies,” Tyger observes.
The vegetarian/kosher dining hall, Pomeroy, debuted as a kosher venue more than 20 years ago and is now vegetarian basically out of necessity, Tyger says.
“The kitchen is not large enough space-wise for us to accommodate a kosher meat program due to the need for additional coolers and storage space,” she explains. “But, kosher vegetarian works for us because approximately 30 percent of our student population is vegetarian, so it allows us to accommodate their needs as well with an entire dining hall dedicated to these food preferences.”
The menu at Pomeroy offers a great selection of dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. It includes everything from barbecue grilled tempeh with cheddar chive mashed potatoes and asparagus to a housemade pasta with fresh basil pesto and garlic bread.
“We also grind our own peanut butter and make our own jams and jellies, so even if you want something a little simpler, we have you covered,” Tyger adds.
Tower Dining Hall offers meals, ice creams, cereals, breads and desserts totally devoid of nuts.
“Just like with the Clarity station, if you didn’t have a nut allergy you really wouldn’t know the difference,” Tyger says.
Nuts are also completely absent from everything turned out by Wellesley’s Claflin Bakery, which produces pastries and breads that are used in the various residential and retail dining venues on campus.
“Students know that any item we produce within our bakery, including breads and desserts, are free of nuts,” Tyger notes, adding that that ingredient was not really missed except “the one item we found that students really did miss in Tower, because it is a nut-free facility, is peanut butter.”
“About three years ago we started making our own plain sunflower butter and chocolate sunflower butter to help curb the cravings and it has been a huge hit with our students,” she says. “We also recently started developing pumpkin seed butter, which is delicious! We are able to use these items within dishes that would traditionally have nuts in them like Thai peanut sauce. We have been able to develop a recipe using sunflower seed butter that when individuals try it they can’t believe there isn’t peanut butter in it.”
Claflin has even been able to develop a nut-free baklava recipe, which would typically contain walnuts.
“We use a nut-free granola, and it gives the baklava the crunch just like the walnuts would,” Tyger explains. “You can’t even tell there aren’t nuts in it and the students rave about it.”