Here’s what’s new from Mercer Dining in Macon this year

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The inside of a cafeteria
The True Balance station in Fresh Food Company is free of the top nine food allergens. Matt Smith photo

Bears on our Macon campus will find some new and improved food and dining features for the 2023-24 academic year. 

Since August 2021, Fresh Food Company in the Connell Student Center has had a “True Balance” station that doesn’t use any of the top eight food allergens: milk, eggs, fish, shellfish, tree nuts, peanuts, wheat and soybeans. Following the Food and Drug Administration’s addition of a ninth allergen earlier this year, this station is now free of sesame as well, said Jarvis Napier, director of operations for Mercer University Dining Services.

True Balance is isolated from the other stations in Fresh Food, and staff members who work there complete yearly allergen training. They follow strict guidelines for food storage and preparation. 

“We have a lot of students who visit the True Balance station, even individuals without allergies,” Napier said. “We have a good team. Some of the best food provided in Fresh Food is at the True Balance station.”

Food allergy practices and awareness are an ongoing priority for the Mercer Dining team. In addition to efforts in campus dining locations, Napier and Executive Chef Jimmy Brown serve as faculty advisers for the Mercer Allergy Awareness Club. Their work with the club earned them the Student Organization Adviser of the Year Award during Mercer’s Student Leadership Awards in April.

“Providing dining options for students with restrictions is an important element which promotes campus diversity,” Napier said. “We don’t want anyone to feel isolated at Mercer. We understand socializing is a major part of campus life, and food is what connects people. We want to be able to give students that sense of belonging every day.”

Vegans and vegetarians can more easily find foods that meet their dietary needs at Fresh Food. Plant-based dishes used to be served at the “Koala Kitchen” station, but now they will be housed in a larger separate area, where the “World” station was formerly located. 

“Students no longer have to try to figure out where our plant-based station is located,” Napier said. “It goes back to hearing and responding to student feedback and providing something that they can call their own.” 

Students with specific allergy or dietary needs or concerns are encouraged to talk with the Mercer Dining team or Dr. Fiona Lewis, dining services’ district dietitian, who provides individual nutrition consults for Mercer, he said. 

Some exciting new menu items are in the works for the vegetarian/vegan station as well as the dessert station. Mercer Dining will host more themed events this year, in addition to favorites like Mercer’s burger week in November, “Taste Around the World” and “Cookout on Cruz.” Guests are encouraged to connect with @MercerDining on Instagram and TikTok for upcoming events.

“We have had some fun over the summer working with Aramark’s corporate offices and our in-house culinary team to bring innovative and sustainable recipes to the students,” Napier said. (Aramark provides food services for Mercer.) “We’re truly excited about campus dining this semester, including new allergen-friendly desserts that we’ll implement at True Balance, and new concepts at Farmers Market. We’re offering meal plan members a variety of choices and more flexibility when it comes to campus food.”

Another change involves modernizing Mercer’s retail food stores, which include four micro markets and two campus convenience stores, formerly known as the P.O.D. (Provisions On Demand) Market. Both Toby’s Corner, located beside Farmers Market in the University Center, and Tot’s Corner, connected to Fresh Food, have been turned into self-checkout stores. Tot’s will be open 24 hours a day, accessible by student ID after normal building hours, and Toby’s will have the same hours as the University Center.

The stores will sell more toiletries and food items, including traditional, plant-based and better-for-you snacks from Mercer Dining vendors such as Frito-Lay and Little Debbie. It can be difficult for students to find transportation to grocery stores, and these additional products aim to address that problem, Napier said. 

Ordering and picking up food at Mercer’s retail restaurants just got simpler too. In an effort to make services more convenient and efficient, most locations now have order kiosks, with machines recently installed at Panda Express and set to be installed at Einstein Bros. Bagels soon. In the future, Which Wich will install food lockers, so students can place their sandwich order online and pick it up in the indicated locker when it’s ready. 

Coming later in Legacy Hall, refrigerated food options like sandwiches and salads will be available through a new vending machine. If successful, machines will be added to other residence halls in the future. 

Lastly, aesthetic upgrades have been made to Chick-fil-A, and a third soda fountain machine has been installed in the drink area it shares with Panda Express.

To learn more about nutrition and allergy management, meal plans or view the latest menu and hours, visit mercer.campusdish.com.

The Farmers Market is located in the University Center. Photo by Ava Johnson

 

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Andrea Honaker
Andrea Honaker is a digital content specialist at Mercer. She writes feature stories for The Den and creates and maintains content for primary University web pages. She also plans and executes campaigns for the primary official Mercer University social media accounts.