The Harper Dining Center at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln is limiting its ingredients to meet an increasing need.
The dining center started offering allergen-friendly food full time at the start of the semester, after staff received positive feedback from the 8 Plus program testing. What was before only available one meal a week was expanded due to the growing amount of residents with special dietary needs.
All foods in the 8 Plus area are free of dairy, eggs, soy, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and gluten to meet common allergen needs, Harper Dining production manager Marcus Rekart said.
Harper was able to implement these changes by altering some existing recipes and creating with new ones, he said. “It was a challenge, but we were all up to it and it was a fun project to work on.”
The dining center began renovating in December 2018 to create both preparation and serving areas exclusively for the allergen friendly offerings. Pam Edwards, interim associate director of university dining services, said the specified areas prevent cross contamination. As another precaution, a special staff works solely in the 8 Plus area and serves food instead of the students serving themselves.
“It’s a dedicated staff who can answer questions,” she said. “That was intended to keep it really focused, because it can get really complicated.”
Edwards said it was clear UNL needed a dedicated space.
“The numbers of students who are coming on campus with different types of food allergies and either having celiac disease or being gluten intolerant, those numbers just continue to go up,” she said.
The space helps ensure students with allergies can get their food just as quickly and easily as other students, Edwards said.
“It’s a way of providing food for students in the same way that everyone else gets them,” she said. “It’s ready. It’s meeting those needs. There’s variety. It’s offered breakfast, lunch and dinner.”
The area is open to anyone and provides options people without allergies or dietary restrictions can enjoy, Edwards said.
“It doesn’t take away from any of the options, it just puts some different ones on,” she said. “It’s more limited in the types of ingredients. So you’re getting a new experience, but they’re all delicious.”
The staff will continue to make changes to the offerings as the 8 Plus program develops and becomes established, Edwards said.
“We know it’ll be a learning process every day,” she said. “But I’m very proud of the teamwork that took place to get it done.”
Harper is committed to providing the program for those who need it, and hopes more students use it as the program grows, Rekart said.
“That’s our niche, we’re totally dedicated to [allergen friendly foods],” he said. “It seems like it’ll take time for people to catch on and understand what it’s all about. We are just trying to do our best to educate them on why we’re doing it and what it is.”