U.Va. Dining Launches New Plant-Forward Program

U.Va. Dining responds to students desires for healthier and more sustainable dining options with new programming

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This spring, U.Va. Dining is launching a new Plant-Forward program focused on providing plant-based menu items that are both healthy and environmentally friendly.

Jenna Truong | Cavalier Daily

This spring, U.Va. Dining is launching a new Plant-Forward program focused on providing plant-based menu items that are both healthy and environmentally friendly.

Every Friday will be a “Plant-Forward Friday” at all three residential dining halls. New recipes that put vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds and grains “at the center of the plate” with little to no portions of meat will be served at lunch on these days, according to Brooke Kinsey, the sustainability coordinator of Aramark at U.Va. Dining. 

Responses collected from students, staff and faculty through Voice of the Consumer surveys indicate that health and quality are two factors important to those who eat at on-Grounds dining locations. 

“If students want to be healthier at U.Va., we’ve got plenty of options,” said Ellie Gale, a second-year student in the College. 

However, at times, eating healthy on-Grounds “takes some creativity,” Gale said. She said that while options such as the salad bars at dining halls are healthy, it can be difficult to find vegan options that do not contain a lot of sugar or vegetables that are not cooked in lots of oil. 

In affiliation with the American Heart Association, one of U.Va. Dining’s goals is to “develop and offer menu items that by 2020 will be reduced by 20 percent in saturated fat, sodium and excessive calories,” said U.Va. Dining nutritionist Paula Caravati in an email to The Cavalier Daily. As part of this Health for Life 20 by 20 campaign, fruits, vegetables and whole grains will be introduced to menus.

Heart health programming is another component of U.Va. Dining’s effort to promote eating well and will be launched in February. “Heart healthy,” or plant-forward recipe sampling will be offered in the dining halls three times throughout the month. Information on eating well will also be available to show how important a healthy diet is to preventing chronic disease, said Caravati in an email. 

Plant-based meals will continue to be a focus during National Nutrition Month in March. During the month, the dining halls will host three dinners with plant-based meals at all food stations. At these dinners, the U.Va. Health and Wellness team, as well as Green Dining, will be tabling to educate students about the healthy plant-forward options available Kinsey said. 

To Gale, being healthy is not only based on foods that are good for the body and mind. 

“I think if you’re going to be a healthy eater, you should take into consideration the health of the planet,” she said. 

Likewise, while Savannah Gold, a second-year in the College, values eating healthy meals, the environmental impact of the food she consumes is most important to her. 

“[Health] is fairly important to me, but more so it’s taking care of and treating the world that I live in with the kind of respect that I feel it deserves,” Gold said.  

Gold explained that she finds doing so to be easy on-Grounds, and that she appreciates the increased conversation about food-related sustainability both on-Grounds and in the Charlottesville community.  

Both the health and environmental benefits of the plant-based meal options on Fridays will be posted on signage, and a new logo will indicate which menu items are plant-forward.

“We want to empower students to make healthy choices and to eat in a way that has a positive impact on the environment,” Kinsey said.

Gold said that an important aspect of eating environmentally friendly food is eating food that is locally sourced. Although fruits and vegetables are healthy for the body, shipping the food long distances has negative impacts on the environment. 

“I wonder to what extent that our plant-forward focus will be based on what the surrounding farms can provide U.Va.,” Gold said. “I’d be interested in how they communicate and advertise that.”

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