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Lunch Bunch celebrates 25 years at Recipe Box Cafe

The weekly lunch for local residents takes place in Parmer Hall’s atrium during the day in the spring semester and the evening during the fall. Credit: OMC

By: Samantha Sanchez, Managing Editor

The Recipe Box Café has been a popular tradition of the Nutrition Sciences Department at Dominican University since 1959. For the past two decades it has been under the direction of Dr. Judy Beto, professor of nutrition sciences. The weekly lunch for local residents takes place in Parmer Hall’s atrium during the day in the spring semester and the evening during the fall. While the attendance is always high, there is one group that never misses a lunch and, indeed, manages to meet for lunch even when the Recipe Box Cafe is on summer hiatus.

Don Straub has been a member of the “Lunch Bunch” for the past nine years. The group of 25 people, most of whom are senior citizens, has been attending the lunch for the past 25 years. They use their weekly meetings as a way to socialize and keep strong friendships, and studies have shown that socialization leads to a longer and healthier life.

In the early years, the group was comprised mostly of women. However, women started bringing their husbands when they retired. Straub only lives a block away from the campus and began attending the lunch soon after his wife started coming. Besides the benefit of being surrounded by friends, he has also been pleasantly surprised by the consistent improvements of the food itself.

“For my wife and me, it’s been a marvelous experience, because of the congeniality of the group and the wonderful job that Judy and her students do,” Straub said. “The students are responsible for everything, and Judy raises the bar a notch every year.”

All nutrition science departments require a food service component for students to become certified dieticians. Many schools choose to place students on the serving line with the school’s food service provider. However, Beto prefers the experience that comes with hands-on work and the presence of the Lunch Bunch has helped her with feedback on how to improve services.

“They come from a home and an era that is very different,” Beto said. “They come from days when they set formal tables, so they notice small and important details like place settings. Their feedback is very appropriate and not something students get often.”

Besides the Recipe Box Café, students also run the Nutrition Snack Bar, which is a healthy alternative to the options in the vending machines, and provide food for the Brennan School of Business Entrepreneur’s Boot Camp. Beto says these kinds of hands-on food service projects are especially important in the constantly changing world of nutrition.

“We try to get our students not just to learn, but to apply,” Beto said. “It’s not just ‘learn this, memorize this, put it on a test and forget it for the rest of your life.’ Nutrition is something you do every day and have to evolve with. It’s a living science.”

Nutrition student, Therese McGarry enjoys the real life experience, because it might be a challenge she faces in the future.

“As a future dietician we as students don’t know where we will find ourselves,” McGarry said. “Working with the kitchen staff and chef at a hospital or retirement home may be something we have to do.  Having this experience has broadened our understanding of how a facility of that size does work.”

For as long as Beto, her students and the rest of the department keep the Recipe Box Café open, the Lunch Bunch will keep attending. Just last year one of the members, Margaret Wyatt, celebrated her 102nd birthday at the lunch.

Another example of dedication is Ed Steprowski. He has been a part of the group for as long as Straub has and doesn’t see himself giving up anytime soon.

“It keeps us out of the nursing home,” Steprowski said. “It keeps us socializing and active. As long as we have the Lunch Bunch, we’re okay.”

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