With roughly 26,000 meals served each day at more than 25 different dining locations on Ohio State’s campus, there is no shortage of dietary needs to be met and nutritional information to be monitored. That task falls to one OSU employee.
Gina Casagrande is a registered dietitian and the assistant director of nutrition and health for OSU Dining Services.
“The most important part of my job is making sure students who have specific dietary needs learn how to eat safely and well on campus,” Casagrande said. “It’s making those people feel comfortable in their new home.”
Zia Ahmed, senior director of Dining Services, made the decision that his team needed a director of nutrition on staff — a position that did not exist before Casagrande’s hire in August.
“One of her primary responsibilities is to help students as they reach out to her with dietary needs. It doesn’t necessarily have to be very special, students can just ask, ‘Hey, I’m trying to lose weight, can you provide guidance?’” Ahmed said.
An Upper Arlington native, Casagrande earned her bachelor’s of science in dietetics from Miami University and her master’s of science in human nutrition from Ohio State.
To address students’ specific needs, she takes a comprehensive look at the student’s schedule, eating habits and all the products offered by OSU Dining Services.
“I’ll ask them where (at what dining halls) they eat, go to the menu and get a list together. I look at the C-Store, too, to see if they can get some snacks for the dorm room,” Casagrande said. “Sometimes we keep special food for them. There was one freshman this year who had allergies to wheat, gluten, dairy and eggs, and he wanted dessert options. We bought some special cookies and kept them in Traditions for him.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the foods responsible for 90 percent of serious allergic reactions are milk, eggs, fish, crustacean shellfish, wheat, soy, peanuts and tree nuts.
Jordan Jennewine, OSU graduate student in the medical dietetics coordinated doctorate program, is interning with Casagrande and said Casagrande accommodates a variety of different students.
“She is willing to order stuff just for students that will fit their needs … if she gets different products in, she makes sure to let the students know,” Jennewine said.
Formerly, Casagrande worked as a supermarket dietitian and wellness coach for Giant Eagle Market District at Kingsdale Center in Upper Arlington, where she provided personal dietary consultations to adults and adolescents.
Casagrande said she applied for the assistant director position at OSU for a few reasons.
“My favorite age group has always been college students,” Casagrande said. “I was ready for a change. I knew the dietitian here before and she had a lot of great things to say about it.”
Besides personal consultations, Casagrande’s most time-consuming project so far has been reviewing the recipes and nutritional information for all food served on campus listed on the OSU dining website.
“When I came here, we deleted all of the net nutrition (online nutrition guides) because they wanted to make sure a third eye saw it before we put it up. I review all the recipes and make sure they’re accurate, specifically when it comes to allergens,” Casagrande said.
The project is about 70 percent finished, she said.
Some of her colleagues said it was Casagrande’s dedication and ability to connect with people that landed her the position.
“One of the reasons we hired her is because of her passion for working with students. She very much enjoys the higher education environment,” Ahmed said.
Lesa Holford, corporate executive chef and Casagrande’s supervisor, meets with the new dietitian weekly to discuss pending projects.
“I wanted a dietitian with the ability to connect with consumers, and that’s what she did at Giant Eagle,” Holford said.
For now, Casagrande said she’s excited about where her current position could take her.
“Every year, more students have special dietary needs. My job is only going to expand.”