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My Food Service Experience as an Intern

When I began the internship component of the Masters of Science in Foods and Nutrition program in May 2009 I was excited to start with my Food Service (FS) rotation. I felt confident in my skills in this area and was ready to apply what I had learned about Patient FS while at school. On the first day of the placement my preceptor told me that my major project was in retail. WHAT? Yes, that was exactly my reaction. Of course, I appeared calm and tried not to show my emotions. I had no experience in retail and had been prepared for projects in Patient FS…. what was I to do?

My project was to revamp the menu for the summer and include nutritional analyses of the items so that customers could make better food choices. Being unsure how to go about this, I decided to look at survey returns from cafeteria customers. These revealed interest in the nutritional content of foods offered, and in healthier entrees. To increase revenue and attract more customers, we decided to include entrees that were less expensive so that those who brought lunch from home would consider purchasing a cafeteria meal instead. I created a three-week summer menu with healthier entrees including low-value entrees, and high-end entrees to meet the varying needs of customers who were mainly hospital staff. We completed nutritional analyses of all entrees to identify those that could be labelled low fat (less than 10 g/serving), low sodium (less than 500 mg/ serving), or as a source of fibre (2 g or more/serving). I identified top selling items on the existing menu to retain, searched for lighter, summer-type foods, and explored trends in the food industry (e.g., the Mediterranean influence).

A teacher working with a student

While working on this project, I realized that the experience and knowledge I gained would be the same whether developing a patient or cafeteria menu. Synthesizing the items into a 21-day menu cycle was the most critical part of this project. I made sure there was variety and that there were vegetarian choices, that side items (vegetable and starch) would look and taste good with the entrees, and I considered the labour available at lunch versus dinner. I also worked on eliminating my own biases when choosing the recipes, realizing that people have different tastes and preferences.

I had to determine who was going to be involved in this project, to whom I could delegate tasks, whose help I would need, who would be affected by the changes, and how we could promote the summer menu. I learned there are many parties involved. The Purchaser had to change ordering and search for new items through Sysco. I worked with her to determine items we had, items to discontinue, possible substitutes, and amounts to order. I also worked closely with the cafeteria Team Leader to determine labour needed to produce the new recipes. We worked on cost and selling prices and promoted the new menu through posters, newsletters and samples.

Educating the cooks on the importance of following the recipes was interesting. Not following recipes would change the nutritional value of the menu items, and invalidate the health symbols I had created for each item. I realized I had to slow down and work one-on-one with each cook. I identified a champ, one of the cooks who was supportive and motivated to make changes. He was key to getting the other cooks onboard. Two activities that helped encourage the chefs to follow the recipes were a “Chef of the Day” signature spot on the daily menu where the day’s cook signed off that the items met the nutrition criteria, and having a weekly Chef’s Special. They loved signing off the menu, particularly those who loved being ‘out front’ and showing off their talents and names. The Chef’s Special provided opportunities for the cooks to showcase their creativity and passion for cooking.

I learned that networking and talking to colleagues is one of the greatest sources of information since there is not much literature pertaining to Food Service Administration. Thanks to Dianne Steele, the Food Service Manager at Trillium Health Centre (THC) and my preceptor during the placement, I had the opportunity to learn about menu planning and implementation. Thanks also to John Del Prado, the cafeteria Team Leader, who was a great asset. I got to see how everyone’s roles in the nutrition department, Aramark, and the overall organization fit together. This was the ‘big picture’ that sometimes, as interns, we don’t get to see.

Reprinted with permission from Dietitians of Canada (DC). Practice is a quarterly update service for DC members that includes information on scientific and clinical developments and Canadian dietitians’ experiences and challenges in practice.

Contact Information:

Dahlia Abou El Hassan, BASc, MScFN (C)
Master of Science in Foods and Nutrition program (Internship Stream)
Brescia University College
University of Western Ontario
London ON
dabouelh@gmail.com