Imagine walking into the dining hall to get a quick breakfast of jam and toast before class. The jam is placed directly next to the peanut butter—is it possible the serving utensils were mixed? While they’re labeled, there’s no guarantee cross contamination did not occur. Most students are used to having meals prepared with their personal dietary and nutritional requirements in mind. But at a university as large as Rutgers, the circumstances are vastly different.

Aware that many students face this problem, Rutgers Dining Services came up with a solution: the Text-to-Order Program. A project spearheaded by Director of Nutrition Services, Dr. Peggy Policastro, the program allows students to use online menus to select their food choices and text their order to their dining hall of preference.

“The program is specifically for students who have the most severe dietary needs,” says Policastro. “Students really like the program because it provides a way to communicate directly with the dining halls at a time that is convenient for them.”

“This year alone, our nutrition team contacted over 1,600 students with special dietary needs”

Featuring several options that include a wide selection of allergy-free foods, such as gluten free, dairy free, and vegan products, the program streamlines the process while ensuring that each meal will be medically safe. Taking a holistic approach towards health and nutrition, dining services often collaborates with other student affairs departments, including health services, disability services, and residence life.

“This year alone, our nutrition team contacted over 1,600 students with special dietary needs,” says Policastro. “Along with nutrition specialist Marina Vineis, we meet with these students to create individual nutrition care plans that best fit their lifestyles.”

Policastro and Vineis also aim to educate students on good nutritional habits, thereby setting the precedent for future generations in the hopes of combatting chronic diseases such as obesity. Providing students with the necessary life skills to thrive outside the classroom, Policastro hopes the program also teaches students about the importance of self-advocacy as they learn how to make the best food choices for themselves, both at Rutgers and beyond.

“The best compliment we’ve received is when a student came to us and said their allergist told them that if they were really concerned about their meals, go to Rutgers,” Policastro says. “They know how to do it right.”

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