For Your Dining Pleasure
Crispitos and Skincredibles: The Latest Dining Hall Craze
Cambridge may not have Taco Bell yet, and a craving for Wendy's still means a T-ride to Boston. But that doesn't really matter now that dining halls on campus provide fine facsimiles of fast food fare.
Skincredibles and crispitos are not just wacky new dining hall goodies. They're also silly, nutty, madcap kinds of new dining hall delectables, and they represent Harvard Dining Service's response to the newest trend in institutionalized food services--the move toward fast food.
While such dining hall offerings may not find their way into the ranks of such classic culinary delights as cod scallops and broccoli cheese pasta, food service managers across campus say these foods are enjoying considerable popularity among students.
Crispitos, which are tortillas filled with either apple chunks and cinnamon, a chicken and cheese mixture or chili, are offered with sour cream at the salad bar. The skincredibles, which are sold commercially as potato skins, are topped with either beef, cheese or cheese and broccoli sauce. Both crispitos and skincredibles can be fried or baked depending on the oven space and labor allotments of the different kitchens.
"Wendy's is offering a whole baked potato with those types of toppings, and they're going like crazy," says Dale M. Hennessey, the dining service's top dietician and menu planner. "If you're at all tuned in to what's going on in the food world, you go with the trend."
A major force in guiding menu changes is student input, she says. If students want quick, tasty and nutritional foods, then Dining Services says it must respond with fast food menus. Hennessy says that the only constraints in implementing new ideas are limited space, time and labor to prepare foods in the various kitchens.
Over the years, the dining hall system has modernized its operation and offerings, growing closer to the McDonald's and Burger King fast food style service in the process. The arrival of salad bars and soda machines in the 1971-72 academic year were perhaps more important developments in this trend, even though students today generally take these staples of food service for granted.
Admittedly, some students are less than enthusiastic about the dining halls' foray into the wonderful world of fast food. Citing the high sodium and fat content which accompanies many fried foods, student consumers fear the nutritional quality of institutionalized cooking.
Or others, like Perry S. Hewitt '87 of Cabot House, simply prefer their chow to be prepared differently. Hewitt says she resents the resemblance of skincredibles to a sort of main-course french fry. "I think the potatoes should be baked, and I want them to be filled with steamed vegetables," she says. "I lust after steamed vegetables."
No matter how food tastes, they argue, the nutrition question keeps popping up. Despite the high amount of sodium found in cheese sauces used at Harvard, the university's top dietician points to the liquified cheese as a source of protein. "You're getting a protein alternative to put on top of a starch. It's like meat and potatoes," Hennessy says.
Although precise nutritional data for crispitos and skincredibles--like caloric and sodium content--are not yet available. Harvard Dining Services offers some revealing information about the sauces served with potato skins.
A one ounce serving of the cheese sauce, for instance, contains 42 calories, 179 milligrams of sodium and 2.7 grams of fat. An ounce of the stroganoff dip contains 27 calories, about 11 milligrams of sodium and weighs in with 1.3 grams of fat. "We serve [sauces] with a one ounce ladle," Hennessey says, "but most people probably want two ounces."
Tables of the U.S. Recommended Daily Allowances list 1100 to 3300 milligrams of sodium per day as "safe and adequate" amounts for adults. This means that a two-ounce serving of the cheese sauce approaches 32 percent of the lower safety level. The stroganoff sauce--apparently much lower in sodium, fat and calories--appears to pose no real threat on these counts.
"The potato is also a good source of potassium," Hennessey adds.
Tasty Enough for 6000
There is general agreement that fast food type items are designed to taste the same no matter how large a scale of production. A hamburger is a hamburger is a hamburger, ad nauseum for 6000 students.
Crispitos are like hamburgers in this regard. "They don't tend to be soggy and starchy," says Julia H. Flanders '87, a self-proclaimed expert on food. "They are better as mass-produced food than some other things."
While, there is no system for gauging a particular food's appeal to students, these fast food facsimiles seem to do very well.
"Depending on what they are running against, they tend to hold their own," says Kevin M. O'Loughlin, manager of Quincy House Dining Hall. "They're usually up against a sub and sandwich bar, and they do okay."
"They've been pretty well received for the most part, especially the cinnamon-apple crispitos," says David M. Lentini, assistant manager of Dunster and Mather dining halls.
On average the crispitos and skincredibles are served twice in a dining hall's six week cycle, with breakfast crispitos served more often.
The decision to add crispitos and skincredibles was not made in a vacuum. Richard J. Montville, operations manager of the College dining halls, says they are part of an ongoing development in the dining hall system. "We have been changing the menus gradually," he says. "A lot of it is in response to student input."
Make a Suggestion
Indeed, later this spring, the Undergraduate Council's Residential Committee will propose a structural change to the meal plan which would allow students to use "missed meal" creates at a late night snack bar either in the Science Center's Green House cafe or the Lehman Hall cafeteria.
And for the student who has a family recipe for lasagna, Richart S. Eisert, chairman of the Undergraduate Council's Residential Committee recommends: "Anyone can go and make a suggestion or give them a recipe."
"They're trying to be responsive to what students want," Eisert says. "That's for sure."
Eisert's committee oversees student complaints and suggestions for dining. "We also say things like 'Get rid of pig and fish night.' We are the reviewers of the new items."
"Potato skins are very popular, but some people have expressed the view that they do not suffice as a main course," Eisert notes. "People enjoy it, but some have said they would rather have chicken with a potato skin on the side or something like that."
"People can also supplement their main course with items from the salad bar," Eisert says. "And Dale (Hennssey) seems to think they're pretty nutritionally sound."
"I mean, we've always had fish and chips, pizza, hamburgers and hot dogs," he says, "Fast food is very popular among the students."
Eisert says that while nutrition and the fast food issue are important, his committee has primarily tried to deal with other food service related concerns.
"We've been taking the issue of nutrition up, but we've taken the stance that what our constituents want are longer dining hall hours, Saturday brunch, and some sort of credit system for students who miss meals, that sort of thing," he says.
"The food service has 6000 students on the 21-meal per week contract and serves some 14,000 meals per day," says Benjamin H. Walcott, assistant director of the dining services.
All Over the Place
Area colleges are not being left behind in the mad rush to be trendy, either. Brandeis University has a panorama of fast food choices for its students, including lines for fast food, pizza, and cheesesteak subs in the same building as its regular dining hall.
And many Brandeis students regularly substitute trips through the french fry line for more conventional fare. "It's really popular," says Executive Dietician Marjorie J. Moores.
"You have those people who are very interested in nutrition and health, and you have those who are going to eat junk food," Moores says.
At Boston University, students have similar options.
"There is a fast food area called the Turtle Express in the student union," says Alan R. Leo, food services director there. Students can apparently use their "points," a form of university money, at this location to purchase all the typical fast food goodies.
"The place is packed," Leo says. "The dining room here is full for at least three hours, especially on Sundays."
But at Harvard any move toward more fast food will have to be prompted by a groundswell of popular acclaim. Walcott claims that conflicting requests make it impossible for food service innovations to please everyone. "Vegetarians want more vegetarian dishes, meat eaters want more roast beef," Walcott says. "When we feel that a representative number of students want something that can be accomodated, we give it much better consideration than if it comes as an individual personal request."