New campus dining dietician to improve options for students with dietary restrictions

Registered Dietitian Meredith Williams plans to represent student dietary interests to Dining administration and organize a student food allergy council

Last semester, Vanderbilt Campus Dining welcomed Meredith Williams as the university’s first Registered Dietitian with Campus Dining. A Nashville native, Williams is in charge of monitoring menus and ensuring access to healthy food for students on campus. She hosts one-on-one appointments with students to personally address their dietary needs, works with dining staff to communicate allergens in recipes through nutritional labels and online content and leads events to promote healthy eating on campus.

“I get to know students, spend time with students and then take down their feedback about what they want to see and what they like,” Williams said. “Then, I translate that to the administration and get things done.”

Prior to hiring a Student Dietitian, Campus Dining shared a registered dietitian with the Vanderbilt Medical Center. To collect information about food allergies and intolerances, representatives of Dining would meet with all incoming first-years. If a student’s dietary needs could not be met through normal dining operations, dining would coordinate with the office of Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Disability Services to create special meal plans.

Now, if a student with a specific dietary need requires additional help to access food options on campus or has suggestions on how to improve current menu choices, Williams invites them to contact her, either by email or appointment. She can offer nutritional advice, advise them on using current dining options or take their feedback to dining administration to produce better accommodations.

To ensure that Dining staff respects student dietary needs, Williams also watches to make sure that ingredients are handled properly to prevent cross-contamination.

“I spend a lot of time in the dining halls, talking with the chefs, talking with the cooks and the people actually back there preparing the food, kind of auditing what they’re doing,” she
said.

Expanding on Dining’s current programing is another one of William’s responsibilities, and she believes that student representation is key.

“I’ve met with Gluten-Free at Vandy,” Williams said. “I’m also working with several students with allergies to set up a student allergy council, so they can work together with students who have many different [types of] allergies… they report to me and I report back to dining”.

In addition to offering nutritional advice and monitoring Dining operations, Williams also wants to host events to reach new audiences. One of her plans with Vanderbilt Rec Dietitian Marilyn Holmes is to set up a series of tables with food samples out during the month of March, which is national nutrition month. The specifics are still to be announced, but she sees the events as an effective way to advertise the presence dietitians on campus.

Because Vanderbilt requires many of its students to register for a meal plan, Williams believes that campus dining has a responsibility to feed students the healthiest food possible.

“To me, I don’t want to be this figure that sits up in this high building, where no one sees me or knows who I am. So I try to spend a lot of time in the dining halls,” Williams said. “I think being out and about, be seen in the dining hall, being able to be asked questions is certainly, from the student perspective, what I want the students to see me as.”

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Todd Polk (2020) writes for both the Campus and the Opinion sections of the Vanderbilt Hustler. Hailing from Honolulu, Hawaii, Todd Polk studies Political Science and Human Organizational Development. Time has a way of slipping through his fingers, especially when he's binge-watching documentaries.

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