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Catering to a Healthier BU

New Sargent Choice menu launched at Catering on the Charles


Photos by Kalman Zabarsky

Last week, in the George Sherman Union Backcourt, the chefs of Boston University faced their greatest challenge in developing a healthier menu: dessert.

The curried chicken with pears received raves, and the roasted vegetable skewers were praised for taste and texture. But the chocolate yogurt parfait with strawberries?

“I’ve heard it’s not chocolatey enough,” says Stacey Zawacki, director of the Nutrition and Fitness Center at Sargent College and cofounder of Sargent Choice, the healthy eating program that develops nutritious menu items for BU’s Dining Services.

After three years on campus, Sargent Choice has become a reliable presence at dining halls and late-night eating spots around BU, offering snack foods, entrees, and prepackaged meals. Now, the nutritionists at Sargent are launching a partnership with BU chefs to offer Sargent Choice items at Catering on the Charles, which provides food and beverages for on-campus events. Last week’s lunch — showcasing the new menu items for University faculty and staff who frequently use catering services — featured a variety of upscale menu items, including entrees and appetizers, designed to demonstrate that nutritious eating can still be part of a celebration.

“People don’t realize how often we have a special occasion,” says Zawacki, noting that Catering on the Charles often provides food for office parties, birthday lunches, and even sports championship celebrations at BU, catering an estimated 4,000 events each year. “If we could give everybody healthy options on those occasions, that’s a lot of good food.”

The tasting menu included asparagus with lemon yogurt dip, grilled swordfish and watermelon pickle skewer, grilled lamb kabobs with a corn and harrisa chutney, and orange-scented beef stir-fry. The dessert table had the parfait, a fruit salad, and two Sargent Choice cookies: peanut butter chocolate chip and oatmeal raisin. All items were prepared according to Sargent Choice standards: with whole grains, lean protein or low-fat dairy products, and reduced sodium.

“It all comes down to taste,” says Kim Hannon, the executive chef for residential dining. “And it doesn’t have to be salty, fatty, or with a lot of sugar.”

Hannon spent last summer developing more than 100 new recipes for Sargent Choice, including pizzas, pastas, and stir-fries. His next project is a chicken nugget made with whole-wheat flour and baked instead of fried. “It’s about how we can adjust what the students really like,” he says. “A lot of them don’t think about whether something’s Sargent Choice anymore — they just know that they had it before, and they like it.”

The University staff attending the lunch, who were asked to provide feedback and critiques, say they were pleased with the options, although some would like to see more vegetarian and vegan menu items in the future. Still, Sam Johnson, director of the School of Theology’s office of professional education, says that BU has made significant strides toward better health in the past few years, thanks to both the Fitness and Recreation Center and the Sargent Choice initiative.

“It’s nice that you’re not sacrificing anything here,” he says. “For your health, or for the taste.”

Jessica Ullian can be reached at jullian@bu.edu.

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