University dining halls strive to accommodate all types of diets

University Dining may offer all-you-can-eat meals, but for some students, all they can eat is limited or restricted.

This week, University dietician Robin Allen was available to talk one-on-one with students with special health needs at several University dining halls. Allen has been a dietician for the past 30 years and has a master’s degree in public health from the University. She became the dietician for dining services in July 2008.

“When a student has a food allergy or other special dietary need, they’ll come to me at the beginning of the year so that we can make a plan together,” Allen said.

Allen said students with extreme dietary conditions or food allergies meet with their dining halls’ chefs. If needed, the chef will prepare a special dinner right before the student arrives at the dining hall.

“Gluten is an allergen that we’re seeing more and more of these days in the form of things like Celiac disease, so we’re really trying to accommodate more for those types of allergies,” Allen said. “Sometimes a student’s allergies can be triggered by things like a sauce used in the food or even if a food the student is allergic to is used in the same pan as their meal was cooked in. Keeping the allergic student’s foods separate is incredibly important.”

For students with food allergies, Allen spends time researching and ordering products so that students can have a nutritious diet that won’t interfere with their sensitive allergies while eating at the dining hall.

Students can also e-mail Allen through the University dining hall website about questions concerning food allergies, special dietary restrictions and healthy meal choices at the dining halls. She also spends a large amount of time managing the online EatSmart system. EatSmart, introduced in 2008, is an online system that provides students with nutritional information about foods served in the dining halls.

“There’s always going to be fried foods like hot dogs and hamburgers served in the dining halls because that’s what students want,” Allen said. “What EatSmart tries to do is to let students know that they do have options and that there are plenty of ways to remain healthy while still eating in the dining halls.”

Morgan Hollie, a vegan and freshman in LAS, regularly uses the EatSmart system and asked Allen questions during her visits to the dining hall.

“Vegan options aren’t always served in the dining halls besides things like the salad bar,” Hollie said. “It’s nice to be able have a system that can show me all of my options, so I can plan ahead.”

But Allen wasn’t only available for students with special cases. Some students, like Jennifer Chan, freshman in Business, had questions about healthy eating in general.

“Everyone was always freaking out about gaining the freshman 15 back at my old school,” Chan said. “Robin helped me realize that there are plenty of ways to avoid that while not going on some kind of insane diet.”