Eating nutritious meals on a college campus is no small feat. You’re away from home, making food decisions on your own for the first time, and the options are beyond plentiful.
How are you supposed to avoid the “freshman fifteen” when pizza beckons 24/7? How can you tell what’s in the food being served in the cafeteria line? And what about students with allergies? How do they avoid pitfalls at every turn?
Enter Dining Diplomats, an innovative program started by Lisa Eberhart, NC State’s director of nutrition and nutritional wellness. Designed to educate NC State students on nutrition and wellness, it started as a series of events on campus.
“After a while, we thought that the nutrition students and others who wanted a more meaningful experience could take a class … and have a deeper experience,” says Eberhart, who oversees the program with the help of graduate students and dietetic interns. The program gives students “real hands-on food service and wellness experiences,” in addition to building work and leadership skills, she says.
Eberhart accepts four to five Dining Diplomat students into the class each semester and has nearly 30 other students who help with events and programming – many of whom are students in the CALS Department of Food, Bioprocessing and Nutrition Sciences.
Kay Stolwyk, a senior nutrition major, has been involved in the program for almost two years.
“NC State serves so many good foods that are healthy, a good portion size, but a lot of times students don’t know what that is or where to get it,” Stolwyk says. “Or students who have allergies aren’t sure what they can eat and they’re stuck eating salads every day.”
To that end, the Dining Diplomats offers a number of services to students, including events and cooking demos, menu planning, recipe formulation, social media outreach (check them out on Instagram: @wellfedwolfpack) and management of an online database that provides nutritional information on dining hall menu boards and websites.
They also offer the “Dietician’s Dish,” weekly examples of healthy meals pieced together from menu items offered at each dining hall.
“This experience has made me really confident in my abilities to be a nutritionist or dietician,” Stolwyk says. “I feel like I can make a difference. I really like helping students live in a way that is going to better them and set them up for success for the rest of their lives.”
Fellow Dining Diplomat Rachael Bell, a senior applied nutrition major, agrees.
“This experience has taught me the value of hard work,” Bell says. “Because everything is done on such a large scale, careful planning and regulation are key. Sometimes it takes days and even weeks to see a project come to fruition, but it can be such a rewarding experience.”
She is currently collaborating on the operations manual for all 20+ NC State dining locations throughout campuses. And she also worked closely with the university to create the “Hungry Games” meal (inspired by the “Hunger Games” movies and books), from inspired menu items to decorations from various movie scenes.
“You get real-world experience in a large university food service,” Bell says. “You see the ins and outs of the extensive experience that all come to together to make a delicious meal appear on your plate. You can be involved in every stage, and that is such a rewarding and hands-on experience!”
You can make a difference in the lives of students like these!
This post was originally published in College of Agriculture and Life Sciences News.