Carrie Gerencher, Lehigh University's on-campus dietician, demonstrates healthy eating options in Rathbone dining hall on Friday, Sept. 18, 2015. Gerencher has played a major role in developing the newly formed "Mindful by Sodexo" wellness program with Lehigh Dining. (Meg Kelly/B&W Photo)

Campus dietitian works with students, dining halls to promote healthy eating

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It’s 11:30 a.m. on a Friday and Carrie Gerencher, Lehigh’s on-campus dietitian, has set up shop in Common Grounds cafe where she’ll stay for much of the afternoon. She hands a student a blueberry and spinach smoothie — which he likes, to his surprise — as she instructs her assistant to add a bit of honey to the next batch of peach smoothies. It’ll keep them healthy but make them just a little sweeter.

At 7 p.m. she’ll head to her next smoothie event on campus where she’ll continue to use fresh fruits, vegetables and grains to blend smoothies and serve them to students in Lehigh mason jars.

While she hosts these smoothie events about once a month, they’re far from her only activity. Gerencher is constantly out around campus promoting a healthy and active lifestyle by working with student athletes and organizations like the Health Center, the Women’s Center and Greek chapters.

Gerencher said she’s hosted a variety of events on campus, including a Women’s Center talk about healthy eating and positive body image, and talks in sorority and fraternity chapter houses about fad diets or healthy food swaps. She also mentioned her favorite event thus far, cooking with the Gryphons, where she helped students make dishes like basic quesadillas, while also ensuring they could properly execute basic cooking skills such as dicing vegetables and knowing when chicken is cooked enough to eat.

“I love her ‘say yes’ attitude,” Mallory Smith, a dietetic intern, said. “She says yes to anything where she can help people on campus. She’s up for anything and adapting that mentality has opened up doors for a lot of opportunities I didn’t expect to have.”

Gerencher arrived at Lehigh three years ago and one of her primary activities involves one-on-one counseling with students.

“The number of students who come to me has increased drastically since I arrived at Lehigh,” she said. “I’m finding a lot more students actually know that I’m here.”

Nutrition counseling is free and confidential and appointments can be easily made by phone. Gerencher says students come to her for a variety of reasons. Some have serious food allergies and want to learn about their options for on-campus dining, while other students, including many student athletes, want to learn how to eat leaner and build muscle mass. She offers practical advice on how to eat healthy, and the appropriate ways to exercise to gain muscle or lose fat.

The biggest piece of advice she gives to Lehigh students is to not take the bus.

“You can build your muscles just going up the steps here,” Gerencher said.

In addition to working with students, Gerencher also works with the chefs of dining services to think of nutritious options students can enjoy in the dining halls.

“I don’t have free reign on the meals,” she says. “But I maybe get to put a twist on them.”

One meal she cites in particular is Friday’s chicken fingers. Acknowledging that students love their chicken fingers, she noted ways students can make the meal more nutritious. The Friday favorite is often accompanied by sides of french fries, mashed potatoes or macaroni and cheese, leading to what Gerencher refers to as “a yellow plate.” She discussed working with the chefs to introduce a green option, some sort of side vegetable as opposed to starch- or carbohydrate-based foods.

She also suggests eating one chicken finger, instead of all three.

“Start with one chicken finger, make yourself a salad, cut it up and toss it in,” Gerencher said. “Eat that and then see how you feel. That way you still get the taste of that chicken finger but you’re eating a more nutritious meal.”

She also works with the dining halls to diversify meals, including themed meals which feature global cuisine. Gerencher works with students of different cultures on the events, allowing them to provide traditional meals and cultural music to make the night as authentic as possible. She’s currently working with Ovie Ojeni, ’18, on a Nigerian night at Rathbone and hopes to take the cultural element one step further by bringing in a dance group for the evening.

“I’ve seen so much change since I was a freshman since Carrie arrived,” student intern Jenna Guma, ’17, said. “There’s now a simple serving station at Lower Cort that serves healthy recipes that are free of all major allergens, a better variety of healthy choices at Upper, and Rathbone now has whole wheat pasta and will often feature great healthy options such as a yogurt bar, smoothies or quinoa salads.”

While the great deal of time Gerencher spends running around campus contributes to a relatively hectic lifestyle, she has a genuine love for working with the students and university community to make Lehigh a healthier place for everyone.

“I love this job,” Gerencher said. “I don’t find myself leaving any time soon.”

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