Galliano Hall dining shows a spike in preference for plant-based meals amidst Covid-19


Photo by: Maggie Bychurch

With the outbreak of the pandemic last spring, Sodexo’s dining team at Nicholls State University has noticed more students choosing options from the Roots serving station on campus.

Area Field Marketing Specialist, Sodexo Campus Services Bianca Gilfour provided a bit of background on the university’s new plant-based concept, its origin dating back to spring 2018. 

“Before Roots was introduced, we were noticing an increase in requests for more vegan and vegetarian options through various feedback platforms like surveys, comment cards, social media and focus groups,” Gilfour said. 

The first attempt made to adhere to these requests was the vegan Nosh bar that was added to the university’s salad station. In turn, Gilfour mentioned that this received great feedback and generated a lot of interest. 

“The bar included fresh hummus, pita chips and assorted grains. Students, faculty and staff loved it so much that they began to ask if we could offer hot options. As a result, our Executive Chef came up with the Roots Plant-Based concept,” Gilfour said. 

Gilfour explained that the set up of the Roots station allows students to choose from various whole grains, pastas, roasted vegetables, beans, herbs and meat substitutions to be cooked to order. 

More so, Gilfour stated that the dining staff at the Roots station consists of highly-trained, energetic individuals who are always willing to answer questions and suggest meal combinations.  

“What keeps Roots exciting is that the options you see this week might not necessarily be options next week due to our rotating menu. We are constantly taking our students’ interests into consideration when it comes to menu planning and variety,” Gilfour said. 

Since its spring 2018 opening, Gilfour mentioned that they have yet to observe a decrease in Roots popularity, and it is a very rare occasion to not see a line there.

Though Roots is a strictly plant-based station with various measures in place to prevent cross-contamination with animal products, Gilfour said that they encourage everyone to try it out and get creative with the combinations on their plates. 

She even listed Roots as her favorite dining station at Nicholls because of how versatile it is. 

“I like to create my bowl and eat it as is, or I add some grilled chicken from the Grill station. I especially enjoy the interaction with our staff as they prepare my meal right there in front of me,” Gilfour said. 

According to Gilfour, this increase in popularity has also gained attention from other schools.

“Other Universities with Sodexo have asked us to either demo on their campus, or we provide them with the resources to implement it themselves,” Gilfour said. 

She explained that though the COVID-19 pandemic has sparked hesitation within a lot of individuals, in relation to public outings, the safety measures taken at dining locations have proven continued success and popularity with Roots. 

“I am excited that we were able to introduce this concept to Nicholls State, for its continued success and that it gives the Nicholls Community delicious variety and a sense of security when it comes to their health,” Gilfour said. 

In terms of the various health benefits that have been proven through Roots, Gilfour mentioned that they previously worked with their Regional Campus Dietician Kelsey Rosenbaum, MS, RD, LDN, and a local writer to compose an article on Covid-19’s impact on students’ diets.

The article on Patch’s website reported a great deal of information found from Rosenbaum’s research.

According to the article, a survey performed by the International Food Information Council  in May 2020 showed that 24% are eating more protein from these plant-based diets since the outbreak of the pandemic. In turn, 20% of meals served at Nicholls comes from the Roots stations. 

The article also reported that since its 2018 spring opening, Roots has served more than 100,000 meals. Additionally, the station uses over 350 pounds of fresh fruit and vegetables weekly while also using over 100 pounds of various whole grains. 

Gilfour mentioned that this bit of information was contributed to the article by Nicholls Dining Executive Chef Shannon Hunt.

The article concluded by stating that eating a balanced plant-based diet offers individuals lean protein, healthy fats, vegetables, fruits, vitamins, minerals and fiber for elevated health. In turn, this is also listed as beneficial in the fact that these options prevent the risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.