Students concerned with their nutrition now have a new resource available to help them make informed choices when eating on campus. For the last two months, Megan Coats — Campus Dining’s new registered dietitian — has been educating students on what dietary options are available at campus dining facilities, she said.
“As the registered dietitian for Campus Dining, I give Campus Dining tours, showcasing opportunities to eat healthy, working with the chefs trying to incorporate more healthy foods around campus, as well as helping students with dietary restrictions and navigate the campus options that we have to offer,” Coats said.
In recent years, Campus Dining noticed the need for additional support services for students with dietary restrictions, said Yukie Murphy, Campus Dining marketing and public relations manager. To address these concerns, Campus Dining hired Coats and created the gluten-free kitchen at 19 Metro Station, Murphy said.
“Those things we wanted to have in place for the incoming freshmen, knowing that there is a need for it, there is a population here that would like it,” Murphy said.
Erin Heidenreich, a nutrition sophomore and Campus Dining peer support counselor, is a student with dietary concerns. Living in the freshmen residence halls last year with Celiac disease and dairy and soy allergies, Heidenreich struggled to find meals that fit her diet.
“At first I lived in the dorms and it was a little bit challenging to find things to eat,” Heidenreich said. “Then I met with Yukie and different people in Campus Dining to kind of change a couple things in Campus Dining to make it more accessible to eat on campus with dietary restrictions.”
According to Heidenreich, who now offers support and advice to other students with dietary concerns, Coats’ expertise will help educate students so they can make informed eating choices not only on campus, but off campus as well.
“She’s really knowledgeable, and she knows a lot in the field, in nutrition and dietary restrictions too, so she’s just a good liaison for Campus Dining and the students,” Heidenreich said.
One particular program Coats has planned is a wellness campaign set to kick off in a few months, Coats said. Though she’s not yet revealing specifics of the campaign, it will include new icons at VG Cafe and 19 Metro Station highlighting the healthiest options at those locations, she said.
VG Cafe and 19 Metro Station will help Coats address the needs of her primary target audience: freshmen. The biggest concerns she’s heard in the past two months have been from freshmen worried about finding healthy options in a new environment, she said.
“The programs that I’m working on, they are for everyone, anyone that wants to eat on campus,” Coats said. “But I’m specifically targeting freshmen just because they are new to the campus and they are primarily eating on campus 100 percent of the time.”
The gluten-free kitchen in 19 Metro Station, which opened this fall, is another resource Campus Dining has implemented to meet students’ special dietary circumstances and increase trust in Campus Dining, Coats said.
“Starting this year, this fall, we have a brand new gluten-free kitchen. It’s also almost all allergen free,” Coats said. “We were certified by the National Celiac Foundation Association, and they came and actually certified the kitchen that it could be gluten-free.”
The gluten-free options are all-you-can-eat, though they typically cost more to make than other foods served at 19 Metro Station, Coats said. Specialty ingredients have to be ordered for many of the recipes, so cost of production is increased, she said.
“Breads and grains typically are more expensive for the gluten free products,” Coats said.
There are no current plans to expand the gluten-free kitchen, but its possible gluten-free grab-and-go options could be sold at other Campus Dining facilities eventually, Coats said.
The gluten-free option is open to all students, not just those with allergies, Coats said. Since coming to Cal Poly from Seattle, Coats has noticed a trend in students eating gluten-free for health reasons other than allergies, she said.
“A lot of students and people perceive that as a healthier way of a lifestyle, and it’s not necessarily the case,” Coats said. “So I’m trying to alleviate some of those questions, and I’m happy to answer them from students.”
Coats is available to answer any dietary or health concerns that students may have about Campus Dining in a one-on-one meeting, she said. Though she doesn’t have open office hours yet, she will in the next few months when her new office is ready, she said.
“It’s easiest to get ahold of me online,” she said. “If you visit the Campus Dining website, there’s a nutrition tab, and you can ‘click here to get started,’ and there’s actually a tab that will email directly to me, and I’m happy to set up any kind of one-on-one meeting.”
So far, the Cal Poly community has been “really receptive” of the new dietitian, and Coats is excited to continue to work with students who are eager to learn about nutrition, she said.
A previous version of this article referred to Megan Coats as a dietician. She is in fact, a dietitian. It has since been revised.