What's on the menu today? Ashley Tacy knows

Ashley TacyBy Kristal Humphrey, university news and communications

Rather than going into a clinical role at a hospital or other healthcare systems like many dietitians, Ashley Tacy chose the food service management route.

She became a dietitian by accident but was confident about the management route she chose and now shares that knowledge with dietetics students at Miami.

During her two years as a general food service manager and licensed dietitian at Miami, she has had the chance to work with many students and see her job evolve.

Q: How has your job changed?

A: When I came to Miami, I perfectly fit the general manager position and also happened to be a dietitian, which is something Miami was looking for.

When I first started, I worked a lot with the students who have special dietary needs: religious, medical and/or lifestyle choices. I helped them find food options in the dining halls.

More than a year ago, a position came open that we converted to a registered dietitian, and I now oversee that position. The person we hired, Joanna Saba, started managing the program for students with special dietary needs, and I took on different responsibilities.

Q: What are your responsibilities now?

A: I work with all of our menus and recipes in Foodservice Suite, which is our database. We have more than 9,000 recipes in the system.

We consistently audit our current recipes to see if they need to be refreshed. We retest them and assess the nutritional content to see if they need all of the components that are currently in them.

For instance, we recently decided that we don’t need to add oil to our standard brown and white rice. It’s extra calories, and it doesn’t really do much for it. I maintain the current recipes and let our staff know when the recipes have changed.

Q: How do you decide whether to make changes to the menu?

A: We audit our menus every semester and decide what we want to change based on food trends, production feedback and, most often, student feedback. We have a feedback form on our website that anyone can fill out, and someone gets the form right away.

I’m working now with the culinary team to evaluate that feedback and decide on menus for the fall. We will have them finished and in the system by graduation. Soon after that we will start working on the menus for the spring 2020 semester.

Q: How do you decide what to serve at the different dining locations?

A: The dining hall buffets share pizzas, stir fry and 56 composed meals (like roasted turkey with mashed potatoes and green beans) but on a different rotation. I make sure they never have the same meal at the same time by using a spreadsheet to place them into a 4-week menu rotation.

They do, however, have staples on the menu. Every commons location will always serve grilled chicken and white or brown rice because they’re so popular.

The salad bar items change when we decide to add new things. For instance, we just added sunflower seed butter, a nice vegan protein that has a similar nutritional breakdown as peanut butter. We don’t use peanut butter since we’re a nut-friendly campus.

Q: Do you work with students?

A: Yes, I work with undergraduate and graduate dietetics students. I like the excitement and new ideas they bring.

Last fall I took on the role of preceptor for Miami’s first set of master’s degree dietetics interns and will do it again next fall. A preceptor shows the students over a long period of time what it takes to do the job, and I was their preceptor for a food service rotation.

We developed an icon for designating healthy items, which will be added to NetNutrition and the digital menu boards in the fall. Joanna and I gave the interns parameters for items that are healthy — a certain number of calories, grams of saturated fat, etc. They then looked at the nutritional content of the items in our recipes and added the icon to the healthy ones.

Q: Is there anything that people would find surprising to know about you?

A: That I became a dietitian by accident. I switched my major five times when I was in college and still graduated within four years. I’m very proud of that. I eventually went to my adviser and said, “What can I graduate with?” He asked me how I felt about dietetics.

It dawned on me that I had always been interested in dietetics but didn’t realize it was a career path. After that I never looked back, and here I am.

So, to all the students who tell me they’ve switched their major, I say, “It’s OK. You’ll figure it out.”