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Home cookin’: Creighton dining services earn national ranking

Creighton earned a No. 39 ranking in the nation's top 50 college dining halls.The old collegiate dining hall experience, calling to mind the “Animal House” antics of John Belushi swilling green Jell-O and inciting food fights, is long gone at Creighton University.

First of all, you won’t want to waste food this good. And second, the ambiance, the options and the heart are far from anything earlier generations of college-going eaters ever knew. The proof is in the results: in the past few years, Creighton’s dining services have experienced large jumps in students utilizing the facilities and eating the food and, most recently, Creighton’s program ranked 39th in The 50 Best College Dining Experiences as evaluated in an independent study by collegerank.net. It’s the first time Creighton has appeared on such a list.

“Since it was an independent study, it came as a surprise to us,” said Mike Fleming, general manager of Creighton Dining Services. “But it’s a great point in time for us, considering all we’ve done in the last three years to improve the student experience. It’s a great indicator for us and all we’ve done to make ourselves competitive among the other options students have.”

Creighton has partnered with Sodexo for its dining services since the mid-1980s and Fleming has served as the leader of the department for nearly five years. In that time, he said, the partnership has worked hard to improve the student experience in each of the four categories the ranking highlighted: versatility, sustainability, accessibility, and nutrition and wellness.

Fleming particularly touts the nutrition and wellness component of the rankings, highlighting Creighton’s commitment to providing “Mindful” options at all dining halls at least once a week and, in reality, more often at most of the stations where students stop. Mindful options provide a low-calorie, high-protein meal and encourage students to stop and think about what they’re eating, all with an eye to promoting good nutrition habits.

There are also regular communications to students from Dining Services, including weekly tips from Executive Chef Tasos Kyprianos about nutrition and a food item, like blueberries or apples. A few times each month, Dining Services also creates menus around a particular theme or food, like a build-your-own sundae bar and the Taste of New Orleans, featuring muffaletta and smoked sausage soup.

“We want the food we put in front of students to be good, healthy food,” Fleming said. “And we also want to have a little fun with it. What we’ve done in the last three years is really a statement about how well we’ve been able to work with the University and forge a partnership.”

The same goes for the sustainability element in Creighton’s dining halls. Food is sourced through local outlets, packaging is done responsibly with recycled cardboard products and corn-oil based containers and cleaning and sanitation takes place with green products.

Working hand-in-hand with students and University administration, Dining Services has made eco-friendly options a priority, Fleming said.

“We like to be in conversation with everyone and find out what students want and how they make choices,” he said. “We’ve seen significant jumps, semester to semester over the past few years, of students using the dining halls and purchasing meal plans and that’s a reflection of the partnership.”

And while jumps in meal plans and usage of the dining halls can be attributed to some cultural changes, it doesn’t hurt that the food is also exemplary. The article mentions made-from-scratch pizzas, cook-to-order vegetarian meals, omelets, salad bars, wrap and sandwich stations, along with themed events and good, old-fashioned comfort foods as just a fraction of the delectable offerings at Creighton’s three dining halls and the other food options around campus.

In student surveys distributed between last spring and fall alone, Fleming said Creighton saw a 13-point jump in use of Dining Services options. The department also enjoys an 11-point mark above the national mean when it comes to satisfaction with Creighton’s food and services.

“When we decided to make the change, we decided to make it all about food and the students,” Fleming said. “All the resources we’ve been able to commit come from the great partnership we have with the University and we’re seeing, clearly, some great results.”

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