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NYIT Dining Services has nixed fried food in favor of nutritious, delicious options for students, thanks to collaboration between staff members and students, including (from left to right): Robert Rizzuto, director of dining services; Pilar Visconti, director of campus dining; and Robert Hammarberg, president of the Student Government Association at NYIT-Old Westbury.
For most college students, eating fast food is as routine as checking Facebook updates. Research on the eating habits of students by Oregon State University researchers has found male and female freshmen are on average failing to eat at least one serving of fruit or vegetables a day. But is greasy, gooey food really what students want?
Staff members in NYIT Dining Services sought to answer this question with a campus-wide survey and focus groups with food service consultants at Porter Khouw in Crofton, Md. "Our overall goal in campus dining is to provide the freshest possible product complemented by exceptional service," says Pilar Visconti, director of campus dining.
Meanwhile, students Chelseyann Bipat, head resident assistant at the NYIT residence halls in Long Island, and Robert Hammarberg, president of the Student Government Association at NYIT-Old Westbury, did their own surveys and shared the results. The NYIT Carleton Group, a student-run ad agency, also joined in with research to inform the redesign of eateries and to create campus dining marks.
And the overwhelming results? Students wanted healthier options. As a result, NYIT Dining Services offered revamped menus, new equipment, and a stylish, comfortable look for eating spaces like Riland Café. Leading the effort were Robert Rizzuto, director of dining services, Brian Hoos, executive chef, and Visconti.
Starbucks coffee and more communal seating such as comfortable dining booths are features of the redesigned Riland Café and Coffee Bar.
By September, the trio had rolled out a deli station at Salten Hall to replace a hot slide unit for burgers, fries, and chicken fingers. The fried items are still available but only on specific days as part of a hot buffet. The deli sells a selection of low-sodium meat and bread—sliced white or wheat, wraps, heroes, Kaiser rolls, and gluten-free options. Improvements include egg whites and ham as an alternative to bacon for breakfast, and vegetarian panini and quesadillas. In addition, there is no trans-fat in cooking oils used by NYIT chefs.
For students looking to eat in, a gourmet burger bar at the Student Activity Center has a choice of made-to-order beef, turkey, chicken, or veggie burgers and gluten-free buns. A daily buffet serves meat, fish, vegetables, and side dishes. In Education Hall, breakfast and lunch sandwiches are now made to order.
Students rushing to class will find healthier grab-and-go sandwiches in campus cafés, including vegetarian choices and salads as well as wholesome, tasty snacks such as Pirate Booty, PopCorners, Clif Bars, Kind Bars, nut packs, and Bare Fruit, which are organic dried apples, pears, mangos, and apricots with no added sugar. In Riland Café and Coffee Bar, chef Jonathan Tuminello rotates daily gourmet lunch specials such as vegetable and lentils quinoa or cilantro and lime cod.
"Regardless of which eating establishment students visit, there are vegetarian and vegan options," says Hammarberg, who likes the addition of Starbucks to the Riland Coffee Bar and finds the pricing of quality food options reasonable. "Special accommodations and food arrangements can be made upon request, which is helpful for students."
NYIT Chef Jonathan Tuminello is hard at work making healthy food for students.
When Bipat began conducting a survey to promote change within NYIT Dining Services, she resolved to educate students about what they put in their bodies.
"People tend to associate 'healthy' with 'yucky,' and I saw a need to eradicate this generalized thinking," she says. "The previous selections offered were centered on fried food, which is fun once in a while, but it really doesn't promote healthier thinking." She also points out that earlier food selections had favored commuter students, who frequent campus eateries less than the residential population that considers NYIT dining options as their only meal sources.
"The changes have been remarkable, especially in the deli at Salten Café, the burger bar in the SAC, and the healthier snacks," she adds. "They use fresh vegetables and the food still tastes great."