For students with dietary restrictions, eating in University dining halls just got easier.

In December, the University of Michigan application added nutrition facts for the food served at University dining halls. Now, students can access information about food allergens of individual items through the dining section of the app.

Kathryn Whiteside, assistant director of Michigan Dining, said the new app function had been in development for a few years before coming to fruition.

Michigan Dining had already developed an online tool called MyNutrition, which allows students to see the nutrition facts of the dining hall food served that day, up to a week in advance. The same data used for MyNutrition were used for the Michigan app.

“All the data were in our database, so it was an easy transition,” Whiteside said.

According to Whiteside, the idea initially started from an effort to make nutrition information more accessible and available to the students.

“We are always trying to stay ahead of the curve,” Whiteside said. “Anything to get the (nutrition) information out there for the students is good.”

The dining hall nutrition facts can now also be accessed from the MyFitnessPal app, which helps its users to self-monitor their calorie intake.

Sarah Ball, senior research area specialist at the Michigan Metabolic and Obesity Center, wrote in an e-mail interview that increasing student awareness of the nutrition facts for dining hall food because the students do not make the food themselves.

“When we eat outside of our homes, we often choose items blindly, not really knowing what is in them,” Ball said. “That is okay for someone eating out a few times a week, but for the students, it is all meals, so knowing what you are eating is particularly important.”

Ball also said the information will help students plan meals ahead and avoid the consequences of impulse decisions.

LSA sophomore Morgan Grantner wrote in an e-mail interview that the availability of the nutrition facts is especially useful for students with dietary restrictions or food allergies.

“You can see the exact ingredients in the food,” Grantner said. “Without these online menus or apps, it would be difficult to eat at dining halls because there would be no method of planning, which is usually necessary when trying to avoid allergens.”

However, Grantner also said the choices for people with food allergies and dietary restrictions are sometimes sparse in the dining halls, which can lead to students opting out of meal plans.

“It’s often very easy for me to go to a store and find a designated gluten-free section or go to a restaurant and ask for a gluten-free menu,” Grantner said. “However, my experience eating at the dining halls last year was not as easy. I lived at West Quad last year, and all that I would ever (attempt to) eat were the burritos with gluten-free shells. And even then, those would fall apart on contact. The meal plan was just not worth it for me.”

Currently, users can only access nutrition facts on dining hall food items. Michigan Dining is working toward providing the nutrition facts for all retail venues in Michigan Dining, such as Java Blue or Mujo Café.

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