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CSU dining halls strive to meet special dietary needs

From veganism and vegetarianism to intolerances and practices such as kosher, students at Colorado State University face a wide range of dietary restrictions.

But CSU’s residential dining services is always working to serve every student the food they want and can have. For the University, it’s all about prioritizing students’ dining needs, providing transparency and constantly working on ways to improve, said Brittney Sly, CSU nutrition and wellness programs manager.

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“We’re putting everything that we get from the (manufacturer) out there to the students so that they can make their own decisions,” Sly said. “Offering transparency and making a priority with menu planning and looking at products that we can always get.”

CSU offers a variety of methods in meeting these goals, including online menus that are up to date for each meal. These menus provide information on what is being served for each meal in each dining hall, as well as ingredient and nutritional information.

Edith Steffenhagen, a freshman art education major, eats a vegetarian diet and also has a gluten intolerance. She said that the menu system is very helpful for students like her. 

“Students can look up the menus and the ingredients … of all of the food being served in all of the dining halls. Which I think is really great,” Steffenhagen said. 

These menu labels carry over into the dining halls, where the menu is listed and symbols provide quick and easy-to-spot warnings for those with allergens or restrictions. Other resources include table cards with tips for eating a nutritional diet, stations within the dining halls to provide additional information and answer questions, a texting service that allows students to give direct feedback to the dining halls and free individual and personal help from a registered dietitian nutritionist.

While students have these resources now, the University did not always provide such options. The journey has been one of prioritizing their students that live and eat on campus. Sly said effort is always being conducted — whether this is hands-on with students about individual needs, searching for a way to gather better estimates of the number of students with special dietary needs, or changes regarding what they provide and how they provide it.

“We make it a priority now to figure out how we can offer things to students with all different special dietary needs,” Sly said. 

For the operational side of providing these options, the task is a cumulative effort of awareness of what needs are on campus, considering how the dining services can obtain these products, the logistics of providing new options operationally and completing these all successfully, Sly said.

Still, with the difficulty of meeting a variety of needs with varying severities, students may not feel as if their personal needs are being met to the best of their capabilities.

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Steffenhagen speaks for herself as a student who has a gluten intolerance that eats in the dining halls.

“When it comes to things like celiac disease or more extensive autoimmune diseases where students absolutely cannot have gluten, I don’t think that they have a great selection,” Steffenhagen said. “Because in the refrigerators or those glass cabinets is essentially all that they have as far as 100% guaranteed gluten-free, processed gluten-free, everything. So those students are eating microwaved or packaged food every single meal. I don’t think that’s enough.”

For students who feel that there are not enough options, CSU hears those as well. Sly recognizes that there is an amount of effort that falls into the students’ laps.

“If they let me know, they can work with me and we can try to figure out a better solution,” Sly said.

Kendall Constable can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @Kendall_Consta.

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