OVERVIEW — AUGUST 2012
The issue of healthy eating has long been a topic of discussion around the country. Everyone seems to be looking for ways to get the general public to eat healthier. Some politicians have even supported a ban on the sale of large sizes of sugary soft drinks.
As any college and university foodservice professional will tell you, forcing a change on people is not the best way to go, especially when it comes to food.
Those looking to encourage people to eat healthier would do well to take a lesson from higher education food service on how to encourage people to eat healthier by using “Stealth Health” — food prep, presentation and marketing techniques that encourage people to eat healthy — without them even knowing.
You may have heard of stealth health when it comes to getting children to eat their veggies. A number of books have been written for parents featuring recipes on how to add vegetables to foods kids like without changing the flavor profile. While that might work for kids at home, sneaking those kinds of ingredients into your dishes would not be a good idea, what with the prevalence of food allergies on college campuses.
A variety of other stealth-health techniques are being used on college and university campuses. Several years ago, schools moved away from frying in oils with trans fats to those without, and most students probably never noticed the difference.
At this year's Tastes of the World Culinary Conference at the University of Massachusetts – Amherst, the topic of health took center stage. The chef instructors focused on ways to make the foods served on campus healthier. One way to do this is to reduce sodium by using other herbs and spices to add flavor to the dishes.
Peggy Policastro, R.D., nutrition specialist with Dining Services at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J., discussed several ways that students are influenced to make healthier choices. “The next step we are working on now is changing the environment to give them little nudges toward eating healthy by placing foods in a different area,” she said. “If there is fruit placed near a register, students are more likely to choose that versus if it is placed out of view. We want to nudge people toward making the healthy choice without having to tell them what to do.”
Policastro said that the school is also considering a pilot study of placing a mirror as decoration near the area where students order sandwiches. The thought is that if people see an image of themselves, they will be less likely to order fattening foods.
Rutgers, like other campuses, also uses a student-led group, called The Healthy Dining Team, to educate students on healthy eating — and they know not to be in the students' faces about it.
It might not be a bad idea for those hoping to change peoples' eating habits to go back to college and learn a lesson or two.