With a few touches on his phone, Noah Lustbader orders gluten-free meals for breakfast, lunch and dinner that are ready to pick up at a selected time at a Vanderbilt University campus dining hall.
Using the OrderIT app, the sophomore enjoys the convenience of mobile technology while adhering to the strict gluten-free diet he requires for celiac disease. And at Vanderbilt, he also has the peace of mind of knowing that his meals are prepared in a dedicated gluten-free space.
The app, the creation of technology solutions company Touchwork, is specifically designed to meet the needs of students with food allergies and other special diets. Lustbader says using it makes him feel he is “able to eat like any other kid.”
Making dining a more equitable experience for students with restricted diets is what inspired registered dietitian Erica Nehrling when she reached out to Touchwork back in 2014. She wanted an ordering system specific to food allergies to serve students at the University of Illinois, where she was a dietitian before joining the team at Touchwork.
While there are other mobile college dining apps, what sets OrderIT apart are its advanced customization features for students with food allergies.
“Food allergies and intolerances aren’t going away,” says Nehrling. “Providing ever-evolving technology to assist food service in providing safe food and a pleasant customer experience is not only essential for disability rights and equity, it is simply the right thing to do.”
Since it began taking orders through the app in August 2019, Vanderbilt has made 5,850 special diet meals for OrderIT customers. The app can be customized for any food allergy.
New Features of Ordering App
Emily Suttle, Vanderbilt’s registered dietitian, oversees the made-to-order allergy meal program. She works with Nehrling to input menu and ingredient information into the app, which is personalized for each student. A new feature appearing this fall will filter out any ingredients that the student must avoid. For example, if a student who is allergic to dairy is ordering a pizza, only dairy-free cheese would appear as an option on that student’s menu.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst is also launching OrderIT this fall. Registered dietitian Dianne Sutherland, nutrition manager at the UMass campus, hopes OrderIT will streamline menu and nutrition information for students with food allergies.
At Vanderbilt, meals that come through OrderIT are prepared by senior cooks in a dedicated cooking area, with dedicated storage in the Kitchen at Kissam, a certified gluten-free, peanut-free, and tree nut-free dining location. Once prepared, all orders must have four signatures including the person who made it, delivered it, the manager, and the student who picks it up. Text notifications between the kitchen staff and student inform the customer when an order is ready or if there are any questions. The app allows for a thread providing the entire record of communication, along with data that can help staff adjust as needed.
The system means there are more eyes on the order. “Ultimately, the staff feel safer, and the student has more autonomy,” Nehrling says.
Being able to order from an app and text as needed eases the stress of having to speak up about your dietary needs for every meal, says Lustbader, who is president of his college’s student allergy advisory council. “To order through your phone is definitely advantageous.”
In an effort to decrease wait time, Michigan State University, another of the colleges highlighted in our ‘Colleges That Go the Distance‘ feature, has its own app for mobile ordering from on-campus dining. New in September 2021, students will be able to use the Transact Mobile Ordering app to order from Thrive, the university’s top 8-free and gluten-free dining hall. When a student selects Thrive as the dining hall location, they will only be able to order food from that location.