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University of Reading plays ‘leading role’ in changing higher education catering

15th Oct 2021 - 06:00
A number of initiatives at the University of Reading are helping to drive the university catering sector to look at different ways to keep their customers well-fed and healthy while meeting the demands of the latest trends.

Under the leadership of Matt Tebbit, the head of bars and dining, it has joined a US-based initiative called the Menus Of Change University Research Collaborative (MCURC), the only UK institution so far to sign up.

The MCURC, which was founded and is jointly led by The Culinary Institute of America and Stanford University, is a network of colleges and universities using campus dining halls as ‘living laboratories for behaviour change’.

It involves its members in research focused on ‘plant-forward’ diets, food waste reduction, and the drivers of consumer food choices.

It also creates educational resources to help accelerate the implementation of the Menus of Change ‘Principles of Healthy, Sustainable Menus’ across the catering industry.

At Reading, Matt Tebbit says: “At a local level, we have taken the principles of the framework and have cooked this up into our own scheme to improve our operations, increase satisfaction, increase profitability and all the while, improving the sustainability of our operations.

“The team are developing ‘Living Laboratories’ - our catering outlets - to support research and both formal and informal learning, as well as drawing on academic expertise within the university. Quite simply, we are breaking new ground and transforming how we operate.

“The emphasis on absolute cooking from scratch, using seasonal and local food including produce from our own farms, has allowed Reading to navigate both Brexit and Covid, with increased flexibility and responsiveness, winning praise from the Radio 4 Food Programme and being referred to as a ‘remarkable university, with remarkable kitchens’.

“The team are proud that the most processed food items on offer in their outlets are ketchup and bread from an artisan baker.

“The new way of working follows a plant-forward rather than plant-based approach, such as blending 20% mushrooms into the University Beef Burger, which is made from our own beef, as well as improving transparency of how we operate via the development and publication of our innovative Sustainable Food Policy and Framework, documenting our progress and aspirations.”

Reading’s residential catering offer has been rebranded to ‘Clever Cuisine’, with three pre-paid eating plans that are now open to all students.

“Clever Cuisine allows students to choose where and when they eat and boasts inclusive coffee and soft drinks plans,” said Matt.

“The drink plans are underpinned by the use of award-winning RFID technology driving up use of re-usable cups by embedding the subscription into the cup, making disposable cups irrelevant.”

The University of Reading was shortlisted for the University Caterer Award in the recent Public Sector Catering Awards 2021.

Written by
Edward Waddell