Northeastern University Dining Services Blog

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Local Produce

Summer is the perfect time to enjoy local produce because of the sheer variety of fruits and vegetables that are available. I’ve waited all winter for ripe berries, juicy tomatoes and sweet stone fruit. We get a few months of this bounty and when the season is over, we wait patiently for summer to come again so we can enjoy our favorites. Connecting and eating with the seasons can be rewarding but also a tough challenge as many of us now rely on grocery stores to provide year-round produce.

Did you know that the average food item has traveled 1,500 miles to get to your plate? Seeking out local food, understanding how it was grown and learning more about the people who grew it can be an empowering experience. Not everyone has the opportunity to shake hands with the person that grew their food but for those that do, it carries more weight than a certification.

Did you also know that how we eat can have as big an impact on climate change as transportation and energy? When produce is shipped, flown or trucked long distances, it must be harvested before it ripens so as to survive the journey. Many producers started developing and growing varieties that held up to transportation and overlooked flavor and nutrition as desirable qualities in their produce. As a result, it is often less nutritious and less tasty, uses a lot of fuel and causes pollution. In addition to being hard on the environment, American farms, owned and operated by family members as a primary income, are disappearing.

There is huge value in supporting our local farmers. It’s important for our food security, our health, and future generations that we support the local agriculture and preserve flavor. Our annual Eat Local promotion kicks off this month and celebrates local produce and the mid-sized American family farm.

Look for ways to support local farmers in your area by visiting farmers markets, participating in Community Support Agriculture (CSAs) or supporting local co-ops. is a great resource to find farmer’s markets and CSAs in your area.


Written by Julia Jordan and Jennifer M. Roberts, MS, RD.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Calories on the menu

Sunday, July 1, 2018 | 12:00 PM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , , , No comments

You may have noticed that restaurant menus have a new look. Along with price and description, you’ll now see calories listed on menus at restaurants, coffee shops, movie theaters and bakeries, among others.

Why put calories on menus?
Most of us eat about a third of our meals away from home. With that in mind, legislation was passed as part of the Affordable Care Act requiring calorie-posting on restaurant menus. The goal of the legislation was to make it easier for us to make informed choices about what and how much we eat while we are out.

Where you will and won’t see calories:
In general, we can expect to see calories on food and drinks that are served regularly at 20 or more locations under the same brand. This includes just about anywhere that serves food ready to eat, such as sports stadiums, coffee shops and restaurants. Chefs’ specials, seasonal dishes or items offered only for a limited time, however, will not be required to have calories listed. Independent restaurants with one or only a few locations and those that move from place to place (trains, planes and food trucks) will not be required to post calories for any of their menu items.

How to use calories on a menu:
Understanding how many calories we take in compared to how many we burn can be valuable in maintaining a healthy weight and an active lifestyle. For example, if your day will be very physically active, you will need more calories to keep your energy levels where you need them. On the other hand, if you are going to be sitting most of the day or are trying to lose weight, you will want to eat fewer calories. Comparing calorie levels for foods and drinks can help you make choices that most closely match your needs.


Written by Jennifer M. Roberts, MS, RD.
June 2017

Friday, June 1, 2018

Plant Forward

A New Way of Eating
There’s a relatively new term buzzing around the food world that you may or may not have heard of, plant forward. What does that mean you ask? Plant forward focuses on more vegetable centric dishes with meat playing more of a supporting role. Think blended burgers, stir-fry’s or grain bowls where meat is almost like a condiment. Flavors are bold and it’s all about the dish’s deliciousness whether it happens to be vegan or vegetarian, or not. Diners aren’t interested in completely removing meat from their diets so embracing a diet that is mostly plants with some meat here and there provides a comfortable middle ground.

The Challenge with Red Meat
Conventional animal agriculture is resource intense and less than stellar for the environment. Ruminant animals release methane gas into the atmosphere which is about twenty five times more intense than carbon dioxide. Let’s face it, our country’s enormous appetite for beef is not so great for our health and the health of our planet. While most of us eat enough protein overall, they type of protein foods we are choosing could use some improvement. Shifting to legumes and other plant proteins can add important nutrients and reduce saturated fat. According to the NRDC, beef is approximately 34 times more carbon intensive than beans and legumes, pound for pound. You don’t have to completely cut meat from your diet to improve your health or your environmental footprint.

How to Eat More 'Plat Forward'
Chefs are not only swapping out red meat for other animal proteins but also creating insanely delicious plant forward menus that can be better for our waistlines and the environment. Load up your plate with more vegetables, fruit, whole grains and legumes. More plants on your plate tends to mean more nutrients and fewer calories…a win, win for health. There are also great options for diners that still want to include meat in their diets. The ‘Switch It Up’ campaign takes the basic burger and replaces it with healthier, delicious burgers that don’t include red meat, like grilled turkey burgers or blackened Portobello burgers. Want to reduce your meat intake but not sure how to get started? Start out slow and consider skipping meat in your meal every now and then. Our ‘Be a Flexitarian’ campaign encourages diners to skip meat once a week and offers flexibility and delicious plant forward dishes.

Written by Julia Jordan and Jennifer M. Roberts, MS, RD.
JUNE 2018

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Good for Mind & Body

Eating well can certainly improve our physical health, but what if it could improve our mental well-being as well? The DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan has been tested, successfully by researchers since the late 1990s as a way to lower blood pressure. A recent study suggests that people who follow DASH may also have a lower risk for depression. DASH emphasizes fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy and is low in meats, sugar-sweetened beverages, and saturated fat making it an overall healthful way of eating for people with and without high blood pressure. Want to see if DASH is right for you? Get started with these key parts of the DASH eating plan.

Increase your fruits and vegetables
The DASH plan calls for 8-10 servings of fruits and vegetables per day, which is substantially more than the average American currently gets. Increasing your intake provides key nutrients thought to play a role in DASH’s success – potassium, magnesium and fiber. When buying fruits and vegetables don’t discriminate if something isn’t “perfect”. Misshapen produce has the same nutrients as grade A produce, so don’t let it go to waste. DASH also presents a great opportunity to support local farms. Look for menu items featuring local produce or stop by a local farmers market.

Don’t skip the dairy
If you haven’t been getting your 2-3 servings of low fat dairy since you drank milk with lunch in school, it may be time to reconnect with this food group. Calcium is another nutrient thought to help with DASH’s beneficial effect on blood pressure. If cow’s milk products are not for you, look for replacements that offer similar amounts of calcium, protein and vitamin D.

Bring on the nuts and seeds
In addition to protein, fiber, and magnesium, nuts provide an antioxidant that may work to lower high blood pressure. Aim for 4-5 servings per week to take advantage of this benefit.

Ready to take on the full DASH plan? Head to for all the details.

1. Diet Shown to Reduce Stroke Risk May Also Reduce Risk of Depression.
2. DASH ranked Best Diet Overall for eighth year in a row by U.S. News and World Report.
3. Lin PH, Allen JD, Li YJ, Yu M, Lien LF, Svetkey LP. Blood Pressure-Lowering Mechanisms of the DASH Dietary Pattern. J Nutr Metab. 2012;2012:472396.

Written by Jennifer M. Roberts, MS, RD.
May 2018

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Drink Healthy

Tuesday, April 17, 2018 | 10:13 AM Posted by Northeastern Dining , , , , , , , , No comments

With assistance from Northeastern graduate student Crystal (Sopher) Richardson

You are what you… DRINK?
The Healthier Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 included the addition of the USDA Smart Snacks in Schools which prescribed limitations on beverages offered for sale to students during the school day.1  These guidelines eliminated the sale of sodas, caffeinated beverages in some states, and restricted the size of non-caloric beverages, milk and juice for all grade levels.  Many would agree that this was a courageous and much needed step to ensure that children developed healthy eating and DRINKING habits. School systems across the United States must have portable water available, free of charge and available to all students. Many school districts encourage the consumption of plain water by allowing students to have water bottles in class. Great steps, great idea, only one problem… what about the adults?

In 2006, a group of researchers from Across the US gathered together to collaborate and develop beverage guidelines as the Beverage Guidance Council. Although, over a decade has passed since they were developed, their advice still rings true. The Panel developed a six-level pitcher (see below), much like the food pyramid of the time, offering recommendations for healthy beverage consumption.

Level 1: Water
Water provides everything that the body needs.  Although, individual needs for water will differ as to the amount needed each day based on diet, weather, and activity level- the Institute of Medicine (IOM) does recommend 125 ounces a day for women and 91 ounces per day for men.3

Level 2: Unsweetened Tea or Coffee
When consumed plain, they are calorie-free and contain antioxidants, flavonoids and other biologically active substances that are good for your health

Level 3: Low-Fat and Skim Milk and Soy Beverages
Adults should limit milk to 1-2 cups per day, less being fine due to calories, but be sure that you are choosing other calcium-rich foods or you may need to consider a supplement to meet your calcium needs.

Level 4: Non-calorically Sweetened Beverages
This level encompasses artificially sweetened sports drinks and diet sodas.  Remember, these are a reduced calorie alternative, but should be consumed as a “treat” and not a replacement for water.

Level 5: Calorically Sweetened Beverages
The Beverage Guidance Panel gives this level its “least recommended” designation.  They are not recommended as a daily beverages due to their high calorie content and the fact that they provide little to no nutritional value.

Level 6: Alcoholic Beverages
The Panel does not offer guidance regarding alcoholic beverages; however the 2015-2020 Dietary Guidelines recommends consuming alcohol in moderation and should be considered as part of your daily recommended calorie intake.4 The Guidelines also offer drink equivalents for all alcoholic beverages that should be considered as well ( And of course... only for those of the legal drinking age.

  1. Tools for Schools: Focusing on Smart Snacks.  USDA website. .  Accessed March 24, 2018.
  2. Healthy Beverage Guidelines.  The Nutrition Source: Harvard School of Public Health. . Published 2006. Accessed March 13, 2018.
  3. Dietary Reference Intakes: Water, Potassium, Sodium, Chloride, and Sulfate. Accessed April 11, 2018
  4. Appendix 9. Alcohol. Dietary Guidelines 2015-2020. Published 2015.  Accessed March 12, 2018.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Good for you, Good for the Earth

As we prepare to celebrate Earth Month in April and Stop Food Waste Day on April 27th, many of us will focus on making choices that improve the health of our planet. An added bonus is that several of the strategies that shrink our carbon footprint can also help improve our health.

Shrink (or Share) Your Portions Starting with smaller portions has been shown to decrease the amount we eat – saving us important calories. Smaller portions also tend to decrease the amount of food we end up throwing away. This strategy is a win-win for the planet that both reduces waste and reduces the demands of producing more food than we really need. When eating out, if smaller portions aren’t available, share dishes with friends. You’ll get to taste a variety of foods without the added calories or waste.

Choose More Plants
Plant foods like fruits, vegetables and grains require substantially less energy, land and water to produce than do animal foods like beef and eggs. Reducing how often you eat resource demanding animal products is a great way to contribute to a more sustainable food system. Replacing some of the animal foods in your diet with plant choices is also a great way to improve your health by increasing health promoting nutrients like fiber and reducing those associated with disease risk such as saturated fat.

Plan Ahead
Last minute food decisions often lead to the “my eyes were bigger than my stomach” result. Planning ahead can help ensure better choices for your well-being, and that of the planet. Meal planning for the week prevents waste and keeps your nutrition goals in check. Create a meal plan for the week, have a grocery list ready and only shop for the things you need. Some stores have apps with built in lists that automatically sort by area of the store.

Small changes add up to make a big difference in the fight against food waste! Ready to commit?
Take the pledge to make every day stop food waste day – visit

1. Freedman MR, Brochado C. Reducing portion size reduces food intake and plate waste. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010 Sep;18(9):1864-6.

Written by Jennifer M. Roberts, MS, RD.
April 2018

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Focus on Whole, Minimally Processed Foods

With assistance from Northeastern graduate student Crystal (Sopher) Richardson

What’s the WHOLE story on Processed Foods?
Nutritionists and dietitians are often asked why processed foods are bad.  It’s not an easy question to answer.  Many refer to the fact that the “Diseases of Civilization” – heart disease, hypertension, tooth decay, diabetes and some cancers did not exist before the increased popularity of processed foods. Whole and minimally processed foods are prepared without copious amounts of added fat, salt or sugar, therefore maximizing the consumption of cancer-fighting nutrients and phytochemicals, that protect your body’s cells from damage. A 2017 study of 249 adolescents showed that the consumption of minimally processed foods was inversely associated with excess weight.1 Another study in 2016, published by Anthony Fardet showed a link between minimally processed foods and satiety versus ultra-processed foods.2

While most people know that eating a whole apple is much healthier than drinking apple juice or snacking on a fruit snack with apple juice added, can we really answer the question of why?  Processed foods are higher in sodium in most cases, leading to issues such as high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.   However, although the science can sometimes be confusing, highly processed foods can also have other effects on the body.

What we do know is that a healthy diet concentrates on consuming more whole and minimally processed foods.  The best rule of thumb? The closer the food is to its form found in nature, the healthier it will be.  These whole foods contain less fat, oil, salt and sugar and more fiber.    When choosing foods, refer to the following tips:
  • Don’t be fooled by your taste buds.  Although some processed foods may not taste salty, the majority of American’s daily sodium intake comes from grains and meat.  Beware of commercially made baked goods and breakfast cereals.
  • Use alternative seasonings such as vinegar, lemon juice and fresh herbs.
  • Avoid processed meat products such as ground beef, deli meats and sausages – as over-consumption has been linked to colon cancer.
  • Read nutrition labels on packaged foods to compare sodium and sugar.
  • Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.  Although canned and frozen alternatives are not bad, look for those with no added salt or sugar.
  • Limit your intake of fast food.
  • Buy your bread from a local bakery.
  • In addition to your bread choice, when selecting foods like pastas, cereals, rice, and crackers always go for the whole-grain option.
  • Fresh produce is less expensive and easier to find if you “eat seasonally”.  Visit your local farmers markets to buy your fruits and vegetables.
  • Remember, meats and dairy are processed to increase shelf life.  Find a store or vendor that offers fresh local meats and dairy.
  1. Melo ISV, Costa CACB, Santos JVLD, Santos AFD, FlorĂȘncio TMMT, Bueno NB. Consumption of minimally processed food is inversely associated with excess weight in adolescents living in an underdeveloped city. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(11):e0188401.
  2. Fardet A. Minimally processed foods are more satiating and less hyperglycemic than ultra-processed foods: a preliminary study with 98 ready-to-eat foods. Food & Function. 2016;7(5):2338-2346. doi:10.1039/c6fo00107f.