Rutgers holds Food Forward Conference to promote healthy eating on campus

<p>Members of the Rutgers community discussed healthy eating initiatives at a conference on Cook campus on Thursday. Attendees pitched innovative ideas that could be implemented on campus, both at the Harvest Cafe and in the regular dining halls.</p>

Members of the Rutgers community discussed healthy eating initiatives at a conference on Cook campus on Thursday. Attendees pitched innovative ideas that could be implemented on campus, both at the Harvest Cafe and in the regular dining halls.

It is garden salads for the Garden State this Thursday at the Food Forward Conference, a healthy eating initiative focused on plant-based eating, in conjunction with the University.

The New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health (INFH), tasked with hosting the event, invited members of the tri-state area and beyond to take part in the plant-forward based eating initiatives used by food service professionals, chefs, dietitians and more, according to its site.

Limited to the first 150 people who register, the attendees will learn new plant-based recipes, ideas and make new connections to others who wish to advocate for healthy and sustainable change, according to their site.

The Food Forward Organization hosts events across the country, making a pit stop at the University to utilize the healthy eating initiatives set in motion over the last few months as a platform to reach other members of the community, said Peggy Policastro, director of Behavioral Nutrition at Rutgers. 

“We partnered with the Food Forward Organization to give it an academic and educational platform," she said. "I think it’s great to introduce students to healthier eating. I believe this is a time in students' lives that they start to make their own food choices that can have an impact for the remainder of their lives."

Introducing students to healthier eating patterns with a focus on plant-based eating and environmental consciousness benefits them long after they graduate, Policastro said. Students should know many of the misconceptions surrounding healthy eating are false and incorporate tasty menu options far beyond a bowl of steamed broccoli.

Policastro said that students try different food options before they form an opinion. Items like zucchini noodles are easily accessible and pair great when incorporated into other dishes.

Along with food changes, dining halls will also see the addition of chef demonstrations in which students are shown how to make a blended burger, cook cauliflower rice and more, she said.

Leading the charge in the healthy eating initiative, Rutgers is among the only large public institutions that embraces change, Policastro said. The New Jersey Institute for Food, Nutrition and Health's motto “to make NJ the healthy state” pairs well with the initiative, as it looks to promote healthy lifestyles. 

“Rutgers dining services (is) working with the INFH and Harvest Cafe (to provide) the menu for tomorrow's conference really brings it all together in a food service, academic and culinary arena,” she said.

Leading the charge in healthier sustainable food menus with plant forward initiatives like Meatless Mondays culminates with Harvest Cafe, said Kate Watts, food and nutrition coordinator for Forward Food.

“They look to shift plants onto (the) center plate and make delicious meals while infiltrating the collective consciousness of students here into normalizing the conversation of 'Hey, you can have an entree without being 80 percent meat,'" she said.

Self-operation expands the potential for the University to branch out into new opportunities, Watts said. The melding of dining services with academia on behalf of Policastro engages the psychology of how students approach food with methods on how they can move towards better choices.

Translating healthy eating to students is indicative of the region that is being examined, Watts said. Students attending these higher education institutions are looking to make a difference and opt for more sustainable resources and many times the food options are the determinant when choosing schools.

Studies indicate that separation of vegetarian foods in dining settings deter people from choosing those options as opposed to placing them next to their meat counterparts, Watts said.

“Increase the fruit and vegetable options in a delicious way. Something we’re talking about today is this stigma behind healthy food. I try not to even use the word 'vegan' because people think healthy and gag,” she said.

The goal now is to market these foods in a manner that appeals to people and plays to their strengths, Watts said.

“You’re making good food, you already know plants can make a great entree. Let's talk about how we can promote that,” she said. “Instead of a bean and rice burrito, you’re going to call it a spicy fiesta burrito, meat-free pasta as pasta marinara and cheese pizza is now white Tuscan bean.”

Christian Zapata is a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He is a correspondent for The Daily Targum.

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