Sustainable program offers a tasty approach to college dining

Fresh Ideas provides university students with innovative meals made to order with fresh, local ingredients
By: | Issue: December, 2016
October 31, 2016

Gone is the single cafeteria line in the Maryville University dining hall, with the Missouri institution’s students making their way down a familiar row of plates, picking up food not much different from the day before. Enter Fresh Ideas, featuring a vibrant food hall that offers innovative meals prepared in front of students by culinarians using fresh, local ingredients. Menus change daily and weekly and include gluten-free, vegan and other dietary options, as well as information on allergens and healthy choices.

A game changer
The changes are courtesy of Fresh Ideas Food Service Management, a sustainability-focused operation that doesn’t just provide food for students, faculty and staff at the St. Louis school. The company also educates students with Facebook posts encouraging reduced food and container waste. Its interactive online menu allows users to calculate calories and filter menu options based on allergies and dietary choices. Students can use an app to order food that’s ready when they arrive at the dining hall and retail locations.

“I’ve been in this line of work 25 years,” says Nina Caldwell, vice president for student life at Maryville University. “What I’ve found with Fresh Ideas, which is very striking, is their ability to be flexible and aware of the culture of Maryville. They truly embrace and understand what’s important to us, which is the student experience.”

Fresh Ideas came to Gander Dining Hall in 2010 and now manages the campus snack bar, coffee shop and food section of the convenience store inside the bookstore.

Options aplenty
The dining hall culinary stations include a Mongolian grill, salad bar with ever-changing ingredients, fresh-made Mexican grill and a made to order deli. On any given day there might be student-inspired specialty sandwiches, a spud bar, house-smoked barbecue, even sushi.

“They’re flexible and amenable to different dietary needs,” says university President Mark Lombardi. “As we have changed and grown demographically, we know food interests are somewhat different. We try to make sure that’s incorporated in our choices.”

The university’s growth has been dramatic over the past nine years, doubling enrollment to its current 6,800 undergraduate and graduate students, Lombardi says. About 800 of those are residents, and that number is expected to jump to 950 by next fall. Fresh Ideas has proven it’s ready to grow right alongside Maryville, the president adds.

“We have no intention of moving away from Fresh Ideas even as we grow to 1,200, 1,500 or more residential students,” says Lombardi. “The approach they take, the responsiveness and the adaptability, are all things that are scalable.”

Caldwell adds: “We definitely were looking for a true partner, someone that understood the importance of being student-centered. They share our vision and our philosophy. The commitment and the values are very similar across the board for both organizations.”

This piece was produced for Fresh Ideas Food Service Management by University Business. For more information, visit