When Chancellor Randy Woodson showed up at Lisa Eberhart’s office last week, he wasn’t looking for tips on healthy eating. Woodson was there to surprise Eberhart, registered dietitian for University Dining, with the highest honor a state employee can receive. Eberhart clinched a Governor’s Award for Excellence. The annual honors are given in five categories including outstanding state government, safety and heroism, public service and human relations. Eberhart is being recognized in the innovations category.
“I’m thrilled because University Dining is very innovative and has come a long way,” she says. “I’ve been able to do many innovative things because I’ve had a lot of support.”
Transforming University Dining
Eberhart’s supervisor, Randy M. Lait, director of dining services for Campus Enterprises, nominated her for the award, which recognizes Eberhart’s efforts to improve the welfare and happiness of the Wolfpack community by helping transform how and what people eat.
Nutrition has long been a focus for Eberhart, who worked part-time at the local hospital while in high school in Ames, Iowa. She started out as a dietary aide before handling all diabetic nourishment for the hospital. Eberhart loves cooking and is passionate about food.
When Eberhart first began consulting at NC State 10 years ago, the food was “very Southern.” Today’s fare still includes fried chicken but has less butter and more fruits and vegetables, she says. “We are light years ahead with a culinary-driven menu.” Throughout the dining halls signs gently remind diners of nut and gluten content, that “water is your best choice” (versus juice or sodas) and of the varying fat content in Howling Cow milks.
To counter growing food allergies, Eberhart’s team carefully documents all ingredients online and on posters in the dining halls. She has also implemented online food allergen information stations in all dining halls accessible via smartphones and tablets. So, by scanning a bar code diners receive all relevant nutritional data.
The unique design has been featured in 12 magazines, including Food Service Director. WRAL ran a recent special on healthy eating at NC State dining halls. “Even the Wall Street Journal has called,” she says.
The award also highlights Eberhart’s work with diabetes. She frequently refers employees to a program offering free test strips and glucometers when many struggle to afford the strips costing $50 per box. She also hosts nutrition forums and feels deeply fulfilled seeing staff and students transform themselves through weight loss.
Eberhart believes diabetes can be better controlled with good diet and exercise, and by drinking water versus sodas and juice. That’s why on Sept. 10 she’s launching two initiatives: Monday Mile, a weekly walk across campus, and Fresh-Start Mondays, more vegetarian and fresh produce options for diners.
Eberhart will join other award recipients and the chancellor at the Governor’s Awards for Excellence reception on Nov. 27 at the North Carolina Museum of History. Meanwhile she hopes to achieve for more nutritional coups. Student obesity remains a concern and she worries how few employees find time for exercise. Eberhart will find a way to help.
“Our dietitian constantly creates new initiatives to improve the health and quality of life for others,” Lait says.