Dining services continues online nutrition work

A year after concerns were raised over the nutritional value of heart healthy items in Oswego State’s dining halls, Resident Dining Services has made strides to improve the nutritional value of the food they offer.

The number of items listed with nutritional information has vastly increased in the past year.

"I would say about 95 percent of the items are listed online," said Elissa Strassman, Oswego State’s registered dietitian.

The remaining items still not listed on the Web site include bakery items, desserts and foods that can be made to order. Since they are made from raw ingredients, these items don’t have nutritional information already provided and must be analyzed. Made to order items can vary depending on what the customer wants, therefore specifics on nutrition can vary.

"It’s a tedious process," said Craig Traub, director of resident dining. Dining services enters all of the menu ingredients into a computer program that, along with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), helps to formulate a nutrition analysis.

"Cooking methods are taken into consideration as we do the recipe analysis," Strassman said.

Strassman says dessert information will be the last thing to be included on the Web site because it is taking a long time to get from the vendors. Strassman added that because calculating the nutritional information is time consuming, most of that work is done over the summer.

"Now that we have all the information, I think that it will probably not be (on the Web site) until next fall," Strassman said.

In addition to adding more information to the Web site, dining services has instituted other changes that have affected students’ dietary options. Salt content in food has become a recent concern, but with more items being made from scratch, it has made controlling the sodium content in the food easier, including sodium busters like the sloppy joe.

The previous recipe for sloppy joe weighed in at 1,112 miligrams of sodium, nearly 46 percent of a person’s daily recommendation. Dining services has also started purchasing low sodium soup bases.

"That also has helped us to improve our nutritionals on a lot of our entrees that we do provide," Strassman explained.

Whole grain options have also increased greatly in the past year. Brown rice is now used in some items and a new 100 percent whole-grain hamburger rolls are currently in use in all dining halls.

Zero calorie vitamin-enhanced water and margarines that contain zero grams of trans-fat have been added to all dining halls on campus in another attempt to offer students more healthy alternatives to soda and trans fat-laden foods.

Even with the recent innovations, Traub said that students were always able to mix and match existing menu items to eat healthfully. Traub himself eats regularly in the dining halls and creates unique combinations with the food.

Traub hopes that the new options will encourage students to get creative with their meals and try different combinations, a sentiment the American Heart Association echoes. It recommends eating a wide variety of nutritious foods daily.

Dining services has continued to post heart-healthy items on menus, getting information for their heart-healthy guidelines from the USDA’s Dietary Guidelines for Healthy Americans and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

However, Strassman and Traub caution that the school’s criteria for heart-healthy foods are meant to help students make healthy choices.

"It is a general guideline," Strassman said.

The dining halls are always working to improve. Traub says it is an ongoing process and suggestions can always be made through the comment cards or approaching a manager or student worker.

"Sometimes students are dissatisfied with something, but they don’t say anything and then nothing gets done about it," Strassman said. "Until someone says something, nobody knows."