College of Agriculture & Natural Resources
Nutrition & Food Science

NFSC350: Campus’ Best Kept Lunch Secret

Foodservice Operations course allows students to manage a small restaurant in Marie Mount Hall.

Unbeknownst to many, the best kept campus secret can be found in room 3112 of Marie Mount Hall, where Dr. Margaret Udahogora, Director of the UMD Dietetics Program, Instructor Melissa Roberts and students from the NFSC350 Foodservice Operations course cook and manage a small restaurant, practice medical nutrition therapy and take part in community outreach.

Approximately 35 students across four course sections work in the lab on either Tuesday or Thursday from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m, rotating through the course’s various components.

The best part?

The course’s “restaurant” is open to the public inviting students, staff and faculty to enjoy low cost, healthy, student-made meals Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11:30-12:30. All meals must be under 900 calories and have a fat content of less than 30 percent, offering the university community an affordable way to try new foods and support the dietetics program.

“Its not just about running a restaurant or cooking behind the scenes,” assistant to Dr. Udahogora, Lauren Pavone, explained. “I think food service operations plays a part in all the different outlets you can go into in dietetics, and you can really get an understanding of that in this class.”

Ziyi Li, senior food science major who attended the course’s “Brunch While You Crunch for Your Classes” meal on October 27th, sees value in this class not just for its participants, but for the campus community as a whole.

 “I think it’s a very innovative thing to have for our school, and for the dietetics students in this class, they can gain more experience while also attracting people to know more about dietetics,” Li explained. “Obviously it’s a good choice for students to choose a healthy lunch, and it’s a lot more affordable than some of the meals in the dining halls.”

Lunches cost $5.50 for students, $6.50 for staff and $7.50 for faculty. However, if you email by noon the day before the lunch you are planning to attend, you can receive a 50 cent discount.

“I think that the main focus of this class is food service management, so that the people who go out to work in food services understand the nutrition behind it and can work with those who do the cooking to make sure that institutional meals are healthy,” lab instructor Melissa Roberts, said.

“Institutional food is healthier than you realize. There is a lot of thought and a lot of constraints that go into hospital food or school food,” Roberts continued. “The government has all these requirements for nutrition, and they need someone to come in who understands food service and nutrition to implement what the government says must be done.”

There is a huge demand for people with both of those abilities, which is understood by both Elise Switzer, another instructor, and Pavone.

“Now more than ever, people in society are looking at dietitians and asking ‘What should I eat? How should I make it? Is it healthy?’ and I think this is a good course for people to really understand how food service managerial applications like this really do prepare you for your career.”

“It’s really cool to see the business side of nutrition,” NFSC350 student and senior dietetics major, Jillian Mergruen, said. “We have learned a lot about how to work with customers and how to manage a restaurant in any food service, be it in a hospital or a nursing home.”

Aside from learning how to cook for large audiences (this class requires food for 55 people), this course also focuses on making meal modifications for individuals with different diet restrictions; diabetes, gluten intolerance, and vegan/vegetarian dishes.

Some of these modifications overlap with the community outreach goals of the course, specifically through Cooking Academy- a program run by instructor Janice Goldschmidt of Community Support Services of Maryland, who is also a graduate of the UMD dietetics program. As part of the Cooking Academy, children with autism and their caregivers are given picture-heavy recipes, written and in video format, to improve their dietary habits. Dietetic students in NFSC350 are now contributing to recipe development and design to increase the variety of healthy choices. All recipes are under 600 calories, cost less than $5, and encourage children with autism to engage with what they are eating. 

In addition to serving up healthy meals for fellow UMD students, faculty and staff, students in NFSC350 are learning a skill that often seems obsolete in college.

“A lot of students don’t know how to cook, and this is really their first experience in the kitchen,” Roberts said. “These extra programs we are doing really tie our college community to real-life community programs.”


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