Plant forward, literally

Campus Dining is brilliant.

When you walk through the buffet, have you noticed that the options are usually ordered in the same way, at every dining hall, at every meal? You receive vegetables first, then grains and proteins.

This isn’t an accident. It’s a subtle, powerful policy choice.

Campus Dining has embraced “plant forward” menus that highlight great flavors and healthy, sustainable ingredients. As part of the Culinary Institute of America and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Menus of Change program, this plant forward approach is Princeton’s way of integrating optimal nutrition, environmental stewardship, and social responsibility into the meals we eat each day.

“Plant forward” means that dining hall menus often promote vegetable-heavy dishes and diets. With the assistance of the Greening Dining student group, Campus Dining has been encouraging healthy eating through signs in the servery, flyers inside napkin holders at tables, and buffet architecture. This architecture may be the most powerful — yet least appreciated — component of the plan. By literally placing vegetables in front of meats and grains in the buffet line, students are “defaulted” into filling up space on their plate with vegetables. It shifts consumption patterns toward more vegetables, which are healthy for the human and the planet, and away from everything else. It’s light-touch intervention: For those truly motivated to avoid vegetables, loading their plates with meat requires walking forward two more steps. But for the vegetable-neutral, distracted, or apathetic dining hall consumer, beginning the meal with a serving of vegetables is the easiest option. This default is a subtle, but powerful, Campus Dining strategy.

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