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Creating a Safe Space for Special Needs Students

Creating a Safe Space for Special Needs Students



THE BIG IDEA: Dealing with customers' severe food allergies is a particular challenge for every operator because the smallest misstep can have serious consequences. In the college environment, students with such conditions often make their own accommodations outside the meal plan, from which they petition for exemption. At Rensselaer, Sodexo has integrated an effective and customer-friendly special diet program into the meal plan with My Zone.

My Zone targets students (and others on campus) who have sensitivities/allergies to anything from gluten and dairy to tree nuts and seafood and gives them a “safe space” within the residential dining facility to prepare their own meals without risk of contamination. The area is accessible all day and, after students prepare their special meals, they can take them and join their friends in the common dining area. This way, students with special dietary restrictions don't feel isolated or separated from their peers.

The My Zone space is maintained by the dining hall staff and stocked with fresh and frozen meals, sides, desserts, snacks, dry groceries, beverages and so forth, as well as fresh-made product from the school's own bakeshop such as wheat- and gluten-free baked goods. All products are marked with nutritional and allergen information.

In addition, Sodexo's chefs prepare daily specials for the special-diet students, who are also free to go into the kitchen and ask for something to be prepared.

In addition to allergies and food intolerances, the My Zone program also accommodates religious dietary restrictions. Kosher and halal products are kept in separate countertop refrigerators and even have their own grills.

Launched in September 2007, My Zone has become a selling point for students touring the Rensselaer campus, as well as an incentive for those with special dietary needs to participate in the meal plan. In the first year, voluntary meal plan retention increased by 45 in part due to the concept.


Jackie Baldwin
executive chef

John Fusco
resident district manager

Candy Brennan

David Gaul & Olivier Sunier
Sodexo marketing

Paul Keck
general manager

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