It’s a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, college dining programs want to attract students by offering appealing dishes, especially those that have proven to be popular over time. On the other hand, scheduling such dishes can lead to excessive crowds on the days they are offered, something that’s not desirable in the pandemic era.
At the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, these crowd-drawing dishes traditionally included the dining program’s signature Chicken Parm and its Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo as well as the regular taco night offerings.
“So we asked ourselves, how do we give them these favorite dishes while keeping them out of the dining hall?” says Director of Dining Linda Nardella.
The solution she and her team came up with was to combine the idea of takeout with the idea of the meal kit made popular recently by firms like Blue Apron and HelloFresh. As students on the Holy Cross’ apartment meal plan already had the option to use their dining dollars to purchase kitchen staples from the campus dining services through its “Kimball to Kitchen” component, it was an easy extension to add meal kits to the mix.
Currently, Holy Cross Dining offers meal kits for Chicken Parm, Chicken & Broccoli Alfredo and tacos. Each is designed to feed four people, which is the number of students typically assigned to an on-campus apartment, and it includes everything they need to prepare a full meal of the dish. Only students living in campus apartments—about 500 of the some 1,800 total campus resident students—are eligible to get the kits.
“They’re ingredients to create the meals,” explains Executive Chef Linda Jesse. “We took our three most popular meals in Kimball and broke them down into meal kits. We give them the ingredients with the recipe cards and they can do the task in their kitchen.”
The two chicken dishes use pre-prepared product including breaded chicken patties for the Parm, though the taco kit does have raw ground beef that the students have to cook.
“We do it in a way that they don’t have to do a whole lot of cooking but enough to feel like they can take ownership of the dish, Nardella says. “We met with students to see what they would like, and they said they preferred cooked chicken.”
The kits, which require 24-hour notice, were launched a couple weeks into the spring term.
“The idea was to kind of give students the opportunity to get their favorite dining hall meals without actually adding to the population of the dining hall,” Nardella says. The popular meals were part of the dining hall cycle menu and always drew large participation, hence the concern in the COVID environment.