Health through food certification simmers

Washington State University Dining Services is constantly working on its menus to provide top quality, nutritious and satisfying food to students.

This year, Dining Services teamed up with SPE Certified, a nutrition company that focuses on sustainability and nutrition, to learn new and improved ways of serving food. SPE stands for Sanitas Per Escam, which is Latin for health through food, the basis of the company’s training.

Sarah Larson, the associate director of Dining Services, said the process is an evolution where the focus is heavily centered on the types of food rather than just focusing on the amount of food and how many calories are in a meal.

“We chose to move toward something that wasn’t just focused on calorie count but more of a whole plate and healthy plate,” Larson said.

The processes through which food is cooked and the types of ingredients used are important in determining the quality of meals. One of these methods is to braze, bake or sauté meat instead of broiling it.  

Howard Campbell, executive chef at Northside Café, is one of the many chefs at the forefront of the SPE certification. After spending two and a half years as the executive cheff at WSU’s Cougar Athletic Training Table, Campbell is used to high nutritional standards.

“We’re hoping to provide a life change for students using healthy options to prepare them for life after college,” Campbell said.

One of the most important parts of creating healthy food is making it tasty, as to buck the mindset that good tasting food can’t be good for you. Campbell wants to change that message to food can be not only filling and nutritious, but also delicious.

One of the signature dishes on the new menu is stuffed bell pepper filled with quinoa, fresh tomatoes, black beans and seasoned with garlic, cumin and coriander.

Dining Services stays in touch with what students want out of their meals by issuing extensive surveys every fall and spring. Students are also able to manage their nutrition through NetNutrition and My Nutrition, interactive websites that allow tracking of eating habits and the quality of meals.

“We want to be in touch with what our customers want and we want this to be something to build on and take to the next level,” Keithely said.

Each month, chefs at the three major dining centers receive a 28-day menu cycle that determines the recipes for the month. One of those menus is a ‘natural platform’ menu that specializes in feeding students with food-borne allergens by finding similarly nutritious recipes.

A noticeable feature of the allergen section is the use of purple cutlery, providing a separate section to prevent cross-contamination.

“It gives those people who actually have allergens a safe zone where they know there are no concerns about cross-contamination,” Campbell said.

Surrounded by a farming community, WSU has a heavy focus on agriculture and has attempted to maximize local food sourcing to provide a symbiotic relationship with farmers and growers. Larson and her fellow staff look for local and regional retailers that can provide needed supplies, such as dairy products, fruits and vegetables.

Through this year’s search, all of the eggs WSU will use this year are cage-free.