As consumer preferences change, and the understanding of what healthy eating means for us today evolves, so do foodservice menus. Technomic’s 2018 Healthy Eating reports that 40% of consumers definitions of health have changed over the past couple years, with many focusing on a balanced diet rather than trying to eat sugar-free or fat-free foods. Todays eaters are also increasingly aware of the importance of nutrients and vitamins, while others search out whole-grain and enriched food options.
A big trend in foodservice continues to focus on cleaner, healthier eating. The Technomic’s report explains that 67% of consumers look for claims of natural ingredients on menus when ordering a healthy item. Within the foodservice segment of colleges and universities, students are now making their own food decisions, and their preferences also lean towards healthier options with more natural ingredients. The Technomic’s 2017 College & University report finds that 28% of students are encouraged to purchase a meal plan which offers healthier options.
What do students want?
Nowadays healthier options don’t stop at the salad bar – college diners increasingly insist on unique and delicious options. 46% of students explain they would like their school to provide more unique foods and beverages, while 43% would appreciate more ethnic foods and beverages. And 71% look for nutritional information to be listed.
Regarding nutritional attributes 57% of students are more likely to purchase foods high in protein; 48% would be likely to order low-sodium options, and 43% prefer foods free of high-fructose corn syrup.
Are colleges are keeping up?
Universities country-wide are revising menus to ensure they’re meeting their diners’ needs.
Ken Toong, for example, the executive director of auxiliary enterprises at University of Massachusetts – Amherst, aware of both clean label and healthy eating trends, is dedicated to providing wholesome alternatives for their students, with the school’s foodservice program currently providing two dieticians on staff.
“Every food we serve needs to be healthy for our students with proper labelling,” says Toong. The school is proud of their transparency, with focus on points like labelling for vegetarian options, which foods contain certain allergens, as well as ensuring foods are free from ingredients such as nitrates and MSG.
With up to 23,500 people utilizing the school’s meal plan and the campus serving over 6.5 million meals per year, food choices are taken seriously at UM – Amherst. “Our students enjoy the transparency and clear labelling,” Toong says. Surveys are taken twice a year at the school to get an idea of what students want to eat as well as how satisfied they are, and in addition to clean ingredients, the overall goal is to offer healthy, delicious foods.
UM – Amherst isn’t alone. At Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., the college’s cafe team cooks food from scratch and uses no ingredients that include MSG or preservatives. The college sources food from local farms when they can. Cafeterias at the University of California – Davis, cater to numerous special diet needs, including vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free options. And at the University of North Florida, nutrition is one of the top health concerns on campus – with the school creating a Healthy Osprey Eat Well campaign, a program that promotes good eating habits and a wholesome diet, provides students access to a registered dietician and offers other programs and additional resources that help students with their health and fitness.
Unfortunately college and university foodservice operators are not meeting the demand of students and diners wanting more clean and healthy options. We need to increase instances of clean foods on menus as well as on the cafeteria signage to ensure diners know what they’re eating- increased efforts to offer these options will translate to increased participation in meal plans.