Students work up an appetite on pedal-powered smoothie machines in Mac.
For Ohio Northern University students on the Dining Services meal plan, eating at the McIntosh dining hall three times a day for seven days a week makes it easy to overlook something new. So students might be surprised to learn about all the changes to Dining Services that this year has brought already.
For instance, the “Mindful Plate,” which is now offered daily, takes the guesswork out of selecting a well-balanced meal. New Mediterranean menu choices include an entrée salad along with two daily varieties of hummus and fresh pita chips. The salad bar has been transformed to deliver “Dining by Design,” and the daily beverage options now include fair-trade coffee and a “Silk” soymilk dispenser.
But there was no missing the new addition to Mac yesterday.
For the first time this year, the Fender Blender pedal-powered smoothie machines were back, offering students an interactive dining experience. Hundreds of ONU students enjoyed guilt-free, all-natural fruit-and-yogurt smoothies they mixed, blended, whipped, churned and frappéd on one of three specially modified stationary bicycles. These bicycles have blenders attached to the front wheel that convert pedal power into delicious cardio concoctions.
“I love smoothies in general, but these are really good. They are better than the ones I make myself,” says sophomore theatre arts major Madeleine Gish. “And this whole experience is really fun. I love that they are playing music. I love the atmosphere.”
It was certainly a festive atmosphere in Mac, and a loud one. Anyone who has used a conventional blender knows what it sounds like when stainless steel blades and ice meet at a few thousand RPMs. To help deal with the noise, Dining Services brought in a sound system equal to the task and played music throughout lunch, giving Mac a definite special-event vibe.
ONU introduced the Fender Blenders last spring, and Dining Services plans to bring them back two or three times each semester. While they are certainly fun, and a nice treat for students, they aren’t practical as an everyday offering.
“With the lunch rush, we have to work very hard to make sure the lines for the bikes don’t get too long so that students continue to enjoy the experience,” says Dining Services Executive Director Terri Mathis. “Our staff prepares three flavors of smoothies: strawberry, peach and blueberry, and then students blend them themselves.”
Mathis would eventually like to see a self-service fruit bar where students create their own smoothie recipes. Dining Services also is interested in using the blender bikes around campus and even in the community at some point in the future.
“We own these bikes, so there’s a lot we could do with them,” says Executive Chef Allen Blankenship. “They are still relatively new, so we haven’t been approached to bring them out into the community, but I could see that being something we might try in the future. We are certainly open to new ideas.”
Anyone that might be interested in having the smoothie machines at their event should have a lot of refrigerated storage on hand. In just a few hours yesterday, Dining Services went through 40 lbs. of bananas, 40 lbs. of peaches, 40 lbs. of blueberries, 35 lbs. of strawberries, 30 gallons of low-fat vanilla yogurt and 18 pounds of honey. That all adds up to a lot of smoothies and a lot of students responding positively to a concerted University effort to improve students’ dining experience.
“This is awesome. It lets the students get involved, and it’s something different for them,” says Blankenship. “They eat all their meals in this same building. The sheer number of meals we prepare here three times a day, seven days a week, makes variety a challenge. So doing something like this is great, and the response has been tremendous.”
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