What it Takes to Feed a Campus

Jamie Waterbury, Operations Manager for Dining Services, shared that regardless of the student body size, it is a challenge at the beginning of the year to get the staff prepared for an influx of students. Once all staff are trained and get in a routine, however, the fluctuation of enrollment from year to year does not impact how Dining Services runs. In the 2022-23 school year, Minnesota State University, Mankato Dining services provided approximately 25,000 meals in the dining center and 15,000 meals in retail areas weekly. He anticipates these numbers will be even higher for the 2023-24 school year with the large incoming class. 

A total of 360 staff members make up the Dining Services team in order to effectively serve such a large population. Of the 360 staff members, 250 of those are student workers. Students have the opportunity to work in all domains of the operation, including catering, dishes, serving and preparing and cooking food, to name a few. In addition to providing so many students with employment, students are prepped for life after graduation by gaining experience in interviewing with opportunities for promotions and leadership roles, including supervisor and student manager positions. Waterbury highlights that the student workers gain more from the experience than just having a job. “They are learning how to supervise people, they are learning what it takes to run an operation,” he says. University Dining Services accepts donations supporting the student employment and leadership development gained through working within the dining center.

Dining Services take the dietary restrictions and preferences of the community very seriously, taking necessary steps to make students feel safe and comfortable eating in the dining hall. In 2016, Minnesota State Mankato hired a full-time campus dietitian, Taylor Nixt, to work with all students with dietary restrictions or disordered eating behaviors. During orientation and at the beginning of every school year, Nixt has consultations with these students to create an individual plan. Through consultations, dietary needs are addressed on a case-by-case basis, and most are accommodated by the Simple Servings station in the Dining Center, which does not have any of the eight major allergens present and has fully separate cooking equipment and storage areas to minimize opportunities for cross contact. The goal of these consultations is for students to feel comfortable with their meal plan and understand what they should or shouldn’t eat. Waterbury shares that “depending on the level of severity that they have, we’ve gone as far as giving the chef a binder and saying these are the things they can eat. We will cook their mom’s recipes.” Being intentional and going through this process not only puts the students at ease, but also the parents. 

While serving such a large population, Dining Services has various sustainability initiatives to reduce food waste and promote recycling. Ninety percent of the paper goods used across the University Dining are compostable. In addition, an effective program called Waste Watch, powered by Leanpath, is used to track food waste, which allows for cooks to be more efficient, therefore resulting in less food waste and less carbon emission. Since turning more to compost, Dining Service’s food waste has reduced from a previous 50 trash bags per day to only two. 

Minnesota State Mankato’s Dining Services is not just about providing meals; it is a vital part of campus life, with a focus on diversity, sustainability, safety, and community engagement. As the University continues to grow and adapt, so too will its Dining Services, ensuring that it remains an essential and ever-improving part of campus life.


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