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On campus with dietitian Jeanne Molloy

5 min read

Restaurant and Foodservice

Jeanne Molloy has seen big changes since taking the post of registered dietitian for Sodexo’s campus foodservice operations at The College of New Jersey in 2008, including a transformation of the college’s traditional dining hall into a series of nine smaller restaurants where students, staff and faculty watch their fresh food being prepared, and a separate spot dedicated to filling a growing demand for gluten-free foods. I talked with Molloy about the challenges involved in serving 35,000 meals each week to a diverse population of young people with different tastes, traditions and dietary needs.

Is it rare to have a registered dietitian on campus?

Yes, I think so. When I came on two years ago, I was in limited company, but I do think it is a growing trend.  For celiac disease, for example, the only treatment is to eat a gluten-free diet, and the latest numbers coming out say one in 133 people are sensitive or intolerant of gluten. Most people are diagnosed between the ages of 18 and 22, which are the college years, so students either come here knowing they have it or get diagnosed while they’re here.

It was a new position when I came on, so I started out just trying to work with the different student groups and let everybody know I was on campus. We did some really cool programs, like a cooking class for upperclassmen because there are new apartments with cooktops and we taught simple recipes that were nutritional powerhouses. I’ve also designed a program with our Grab-and-Go products that meet the American Dietetic Association’s goal of 25 to 35 grams of fiber a day. We’re doing really fun stuff that’s impactful and teaches nutrition along the way.

What’s your role?

I’m a liaison between the food service and the students. I see students one-to-one for counseling, whether it’s for weight loss, weight gain, sports nutrition, intolerances or allergies. I help them to eat safely on campus. As part of TCNJ dining services, we partner with our clients to attract and retain students, and we  accommodate any special dietary needs.

I’ve done a lot of counseling and seen a lot of success stories — it’s really been quite fulfilling. Everyone that comes, whether it’s someone who has lost weight on campus, or someone trying to lose weight on campus, or someone who has a unique food allergy who feels like they can’t eat within the community, we get them to be able to do that. They feel so great, being able to quietly get their meal and sit with their friends.

How big a concern is obesity on college campuses?

Research will show that more students are hitting the college campus with BMIs above 25, and that’s why our program, our renovation, is so phenomenal. We’re offering good experiences through better nutrition, which leads to better performance, better health and can lead to weight loss. We serve fresh foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, cooked right in front of the students. Our resident dining program is geared toward healthier options.

How does the newly designed dining hall promote health and nutrition?

Sodexo and TCNJ have a wonderful partnership. When I first came to campus, with the old design, meals were cooked in a back kitchen, then put in a tray, then into another holding well where they were served. With Sodexo, they have recipes and nutritional analysis behind each recipe, but they’re not the majority any longer. Now, we have the nutritionals available, but we also offer grids of nutrition for the components of the meals. If you’re piecing it together, you know what the nutritional values of your order are. There are two nutritional kiosks in the main dining hall and, using, students can have a nutritional tracker.

We also have a gluten-free area for students; it speaks greatly to what we’ve done for our students with special dietary needs. We have retained a student this semester from Germany. She contacted me before she came and said, “I can study anywhere in the U.S. but can’t eat anywhere, because I eat gluten free.” She was from Germany, and you can do so much homework and legwork on the Web now. She had narrowed her choices of schools and decided on us because we could best accommodate her dietary needs.

What kind of input do students have into the menus and on-campus food offerings?

Before the renovation, they started with surveys of the students, asking what they wanted, and the response was clearly fresh, healthier options. We have diverse palates and populations on campus, so we created nine mini-restaurants. There’s Veggie Loop, where the meals are vegetarian driven. Wokkery is a huge Mongolian grill where you choose your protein, vegetable, a sauce if you want one, and brown rice or white rice. There’s a rotisserie, where we have fresh meat and fish every day, including lamb, beef, salmon, chicken and turkey. There’s a pasta and pizza station, with a state-of-the-art pizza stove. We have sushi and Mexican. It’s exactly what the students asked for — they wanted fresh and healthy. They molded it, and we’re delivering it.  Really, it’s all about delivering an exceptional student experience. That’s what’s going to keep our clients happy, keep our students happy. It’s the way I think you’ll see resident dining go, but I do think we’re ahead of the trend.

Image credit: webphotographeer via iStockphoto.