WILKES-BARRE — When Matthew Evers was looking for a college to attend, food was a big concern.
The 19-year-old King’s College freshman from Souderton, Montgomery County, is allergic to wheat, eggs and nuts, so he has to be careful about what he eats.
“I remember visiting over the summer,” recalled Evers, who is enrolled in the physician assistant program. “My mom and I were concerned about what I was going to eat.”
They were relieved to discover that King’s dining hall planned to offer, beginning in the fall, “Simple Servings by Sodexo,” an alternative dining option for people with food allergies, gluten intolerance or those who prefer simple foods. The dining option also is open to the public.
“That’s one of the reasons I decided to come here, too,” he said. “I was looking at other schools, and they didn’t have anything (like this).”
“The reason we put it in is because we’ve seen an increase in students who have food allergies,” said Mary Wood, general manager of King’s dining services for Sodexo.
She said the option won Sodexo a national award for best new concept.
The Simple Servings option offers foods made without the most-common allergens, such as peanuts, tree nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, milk products and eggs. All the food is made without any ingredients that contain gluten. Healthy protein dishes made with fish, beef, pork, chicken and turkey, as well as vegetarian options, also are offered as part of the menus that change every lunch and dinner. Wood said vegan and vegetarian options also are available in the main dining area.
Wood and Simple Servings chef Mike Pungitore both said the Simple Servings dining option has increased in popularity since fall.
“We have a lot of students who have food allergies, athletes and students who eat healthy,” Pungitore said.
He said nothing he makes is deep fried. It’s baked or steamed.
On Thursday, the lunch menu for the day included ginger citrus chicken, parsley baby carrots and quinoa primavera.
To ensure there is no cross-contamination, the Simple Servings food is prepared in a separate area, using separate equipment, and food is kept in a separate storage area. Even the utensils Pungitore uses are color-coded with purple handles (or, in the cutting board’s case, entirely in purple) to ensure they are washed separately.
“I don’t use any allergens,” he said. “I don’t use milk, eggs, soy, nuts, tree nuts.”
Sometimes he will build a menu around a student who has special requests.
“We have one student who’s allergic to hot (spicy) food,” Pungitore said.
So if he is making a spicy dish, he makes a portion that’s not spicy and puts it aside for her.
The high-protein items on the Simple Servings menu have become popular with the King’s football players, as well, and some, he said, have credited the menu with helping the team’s record.
Wood said Simple Servings is one component of Marketplace, an all-you-care-to-eat outlet, and includes drinks and dessert. For non-King’s diners, lunch is $8.50, and dinner is $11.25. Simple Servings is open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday inside the Sheehy-Farmer Student Center.