Special Diets: Help Us Help You

Special diets can impact a variety of different people in a multitude of ways. Special diets have a tendency to complicate things, but we understand that college students have to manage a lot of things already, whether it be academic, social or personal stresses. Finding delicious, safe food to eat shouldn’t be one of those stresses and that is something Miami University Dining Services is here to help with.

Help us help you manage your college dining experience.

“We want to help [students] navigate our food service,” says Mary Barrera, Manager of Culinary Services. “We want you to have a safe, satisfying food experience and, yet, still give you a great variety of food to choose from.”

Miami University Dining receives requests for help with special diets every year from incoming students and current/returning students, whose dietary needs have changed. Each of those requests is managed by the Dining Services staff, specifically our Culinary Specialist, with an individual focus, emphasizing communication to help cater to an individual’s dietary needs.

“We want special diet students to reach out to us. Email. Call,” says Barrera. “We like to talk to the people. The easiest way to figure out what they need and want to eat is by talking to them.”

Begin the conversation by calling 513-529-3040, sending an email to dining@miamioh.edu or fill out our questionnaire.

All locations on campus have the ability to serve special diets, but even then, it comes down to effective communication and identifying yourself. For example, locations like Armstrong’s Mein Street, can specially prepare food to accommodate a gluten intolerance or some other allergies, if that is communicated to the manager. Having undergone thorough training in catering to special diets, they will take the necessary steps in order to ensure a safe dining experience. At the very least, communicate your concerns or dietary needs to a food production leader, when ordering.

“If a need is not met by a menu, we usually have a variety of products that are available in the back.” says Barrera. “If you talk to us, we can tell you what to get and how to get it. If you need a special product or brand, it can be ordered. If you need us to supplement menus, it may already be there. We just need to know.”

Miami’s Culinary Specialist Beverly Rambo, who specializes in special diets, works with students, extensively covering their dietary needs and wants, so they have a variety of options to choose from, at the locations they need them. Familiar or preferred brands/products can be specially ordered. Food items can be moved to different dining locations at the student’s convenience. Students can even call ahead and request an item be prepared for their arrival, so the dining staff has time to make the necessary accommodations for a specific food allergy or intolerance. Additionally, Miami University has their own team of top-flight chefs who can help those with special diets explore other recipes and food items. Students with special diets don’t have to feel limited in their selections, but it all ultimately comes back to asking for assistance. Accommodations of varying degrees can be made to help a student with their special diet, but it’s hard to help if students don’t reach out to take advantage of our services.

“We don’t want students to feel awkward or uncomfortable,” says Rambo. “We really want to help.”

Another service offered to students is the MyTray Nutrition feature on the Miami University Dining Services website. It allows people to filter through menus by building (Armstrong, Maplestreet…etc.), with the option to exclude any of the following allergens/intolerances: all eight top allergens, gluten, meat or animal by-product. The system cycles through the menu, removing items that contain the allergens/intolerances that were excluded. The results are food products served free of those products. Furthermore, hovering over the menu item will show which allergens are contained in that product. Clicking on the menu item gives the nutritional facts, allowing people to learn as much as they want about their food before even setting foot in line.

My Tray is a valuable resource for those with special diets and even those without (Click to enlarge).

My Tray is a valuable resource for those with special diets and even those without (Click to enlarge).

While every dining location can cater to most any special dietary need, there are certain locations that are more naturally prepared for those services. The goal, with these locations, is to offer high-quality food and make them easy to access, requiring no extra preparation or wait time for a specialty order.

Beginning this year, the custom stir fry at Maplestreet Station’s Pacific Rim will be gluten-free and allergen-friendly, free of dairy, eggs, wheat, fin fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts. The stir fry station still contains soy, but remains a great option for many. Maplestreet’s Americas will also be serving quinoa bowls this year, which are gluten-free and vegan (as long as you don’t add meat as a topping).

The Allergen Station, located in Western Dining Commons, is free of the top eight allergens. That means the station is a delicious, safe option, free of gluten, eggs, dairy, wheat, fin fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts and soy. Many menu items are vegetarian or vegan as well. It is the perfect location for those with special diets, especially those who want a meal they don’t have to think too hard about. It’s allergen-free and a simple solution. The station is popular among students with and without dietary restrictions, offering a variety of roasted vegetables, potatoes, chicken, carved meat and other delicious, safe, and healthy, options. The quality of food offered rejects the notion that allergen-free has to be bland.

“Many allergen-friendly foods are becoming more mainstream as more people deal with special diets,” says Rambo, “We would encourage people to come by and try the Allergen Station food. It surprises people.”

Spices are typically allergen-free and the use of spice rubs – or something as simple as cooking with olive oil instead of butter – not only provide options to students with special diets, but also expose those same students to foods they may not have had before. And that all comes back to opening the doors for communication.

“If you are somewhere and need something, ask for it. If you are allergic and have a special diet, ask us for help,” says Barrera. “There’s a wide variety of options everywhere. Just because you see fried food doesn’t mean it’s the only thing offered. There are options, but communication is the key.”

As special diets become more prevalent in our current social climate, there is an increased expectation of accommodations, but special diets are so varied, they are hard to prepare for without knowing ahead of time. Special diets include allergies to eggs, diary, soy, wheat, fin fish, shellfish, tree nuts and peanuts. This also accounts for gluten intolerance, requiring gluten-free accommodations, and those who are vegetarian or vegan. With such a wide variety, that impacts so many foods, the only way we can ensure that accommodations will be made for a specific special diet is if we are made aware of it.

“Get to know us,” says Barrera, “We want students to have a satisfying food experience for the four years they are here.”

Whether a student is gluten intolerant, vegan or has a temporary dietary need, there is a wide variety of options available to them. If made aware of special diets, accommodations can be made to ensure that one’s dining experience is one less college stress.

Begin the conversation by calling 513-529-3040, sending an email to dining@miamioh.edu or fill out our questionnaire.

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