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Oklahoma State University

The Natural: A unique and allergen-friendly OSU dining experience

Fri, December 02, 2016
The Natural: A Unique and Allergen-Friendly OSU Dining Experience

Oklahoma State University has opened The Natural, a new dining facility that provides a safe and healthy place for students with allergies to dine on campus. It’s one of seven options offered in the university’s new North Dining Facility.

The Natural is a gluten and allergen-friendly restaurant that provides food alternatives to six of the top eight food allergies, as part of OSU’s commitment to be America’s Healthiest Campus. The restaurant not only accommodates those with food allergies, but also offers popular and enjoyable dishes such as fresh salads, artisan flatbreads, hot paninis and cold sandwiches to students on campus.

The Natural: A Unique and Allergen-Friendly OSU Dining Experience

“Food is the cornerstone of a healthy body, it is important that all students have safe and healthy food choices on our campus,” said Todd Misener, OSU chief wellness officer. “Food allergies are a growing concern on college campuses and OSU has positioned itself as a leader in higher education by providing a diverse selection of healthy, delicious, allergy-free food options.”

Phillip Yates, executive chef for University Dining Services, said, he found developing the menu to be challenging and rewarding.

“It’s been exciting to see the concept doing so well and the positive response from the students.”

The latest information from Food Allergy Research and Education (FARE), indicates individuals can have an allergic reaction to food proteins that are released from the vapor of other foods that are cooked in the same area. The Natural prevents these food contaminants by using its own refrigerators, ovens and food prep stations, so students can feel confident about the food they consume. 

A study, released in 2013 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, shows food allergies among children increased approximately 50 percent between 1997 and 2011, according to FARE, with as many as 15 million people in the U.S. experiencing food allergies. 

Most of these allergic reactions are caused by eight types of food: cow’s milk, eggs, fish, peanuts, shellfish, soy, tree nuts and wheat. At the Natural, coconut oil is the only type of tree nut product used. Cheese is the only dairy product offered but students can request a dairy-free substitute.

“The Natural is meeting a need for students with allergens and students that have Celiac disease, and several options on the menu can also be made vegetarian or vegan because of the milk-free cheese,” said Patty Anson, university dining services dietitian. “A growing number of students who simply prefer these types of food really enjoy The Natural, too.”

Before this separate allergen-friendly dining area was created at OSU, students with food allergies ordered food online through OSU Dining Services and would pick it up in a separate dining facility on campus. Now, they enjoy the convenience of a kitchen tailored to meet their needs. In addition to providing a safer and healthier atmosphere for students, the Department of Wellness offers nutrition counseling to students and employees. OSU students have access to registered dietitians who examine individual needs and develop practical meal plans. 

Story by Cassidy Williams