What does it take to feed an athlete?

March 2016

Many of the courses offered at Macdonald are formulated to include as much hands-on experience as possible, whether in the lab, out in the field or, as in this case, in the Food Labs. Share in Emma’s experience preparing a meal for some of Mac’s athletes.

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| Emma Champagne-Wees, Dietetics and Human Nutrition

On January 23, 2016, teams of woodsmen and women gathered on McGill University’s Macdonald campus to compete in outdoor athletic events. But the Lumberjacks and Jills were not the only ones working hard: behind the scenes of the competition, toiling in the kitchens, several Dietetics major students were also busy preparing meals in order to keep the woodsmen and women fed.

Preparations to feed the 150 or so athletes coming to compete at Macdonald Campus’s 56th annual woodsmen competition started last September. As part of Food Service Systems Management and Quantity Food Production courses, four groups of five or six Dietetics and Nutrition students, including myself, were assigned to plan and manage the preparation and service of the meals to be served on the day of the competition. Three of the teams would each prepare one of the meals served to the athletes, while the fourth group would manage a snack bar for all the people coming to watch the competition.

Throughout the fall semester, we decided on our menus and found appropriate recipes, which we tested and modified. Our instructions were simple: we had to come up with a menu which took into account our clientele, theme and budget. However, integrating health considerations, theme appropriateness, cost, taste, feasibility, reasonable portion sizes and more into our recipes was a quite momentous task.

IMG_3026_300For this event, my team was charged with preparing a hearty breakfast inspired by typical Québecois foods. Though recipe possibilities were numerous, it was a challenge for us to integrate the aspect of health in our menu since traditional Québecois breakfast dishes usually contain abundant amounts of fat and salt, and rather limited quantities of fruits and vegetables. In addition to modifying our recipes in order to serve a healthier meal, we also had to determine portion sizes that would be both satisfying for our customers and easy to serve. To be able to make these decisions, all of our recipes were tested before the day of the event. In addition, these “test kitchens” also allowed us to evaluate the taste of our various dishes and to determine the time and number of people that would be needed to prepare each recipe. Finally, with all this information, we calculated the costs associated with all our recipes and determined how many other students from our class would be needed to prepare and serve our meal on the day of the competition.

Of course, although we planned carefully, not everything went exactly as foreseen. In particular, more staff to help with preparation and clean-up would have been appreciated, and some dishes were made in excess while others were not abundant enough. However, cooking and service continued and we can now learn from our mistakes.

Nevertheless, organizing, managing and participating in these meal events was an overall interesting and pertinent experience. As Dietetics students, everything we learned while preparing for this event will be very useful in our future careers, especially for those of us who may work in the management of a cafeteria or in the food service department of a hospital or restaurant.

Finally, although we had to put in a tremendous amount of work and not everything went according to plan, our efforts were worth the result. In fact, not only did we learn a great deal from this whole project, but hearing the comments of those who had just eaten our meal and enjoyed it was also very rewarding. Our many weeks of preparation paid off and made our meals largely successful.

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