As part of life on the new campus, Compass Rose decided to revamp what the students were eating each day to better support their journey towards healing and growth. Since we know the important impact that nutrition has on our overall health, including our mental health, we put together a food committee made up of staff to thoughtfully redesign our menu to greatly limit or exclude refined carbohydrates, sugars, and processed foods. Our new menu emphasizes whole foods, including nutrient-rich and filling foods like avocados and sweet potatoes, and is largely grain-free.
“Overall, the reason was partly helping the girls to develop a healthy relationship with food and also recognizing the impact of the food that we eat on our overall well-being, particularly our mental health,” said Mike Haarer, Vice President and Executive Director. “That involved taking a look at the ways that a diet that’s high in grains and includes sugars impacts mood and then making changes to limit those and replace them with nutrient-rich whole foods.”
This new approach to food at Compass Rose also encourages students to reestablish a healthy relationship with food.
“I still struggle with a relationship with food, but I definitely came here with the understanding that food, in any kind of excess or to any kind of extent is harmful to your body,” said a current CRA student. “I just have a very different view of food now where I notice myself getting hungry and thinking, ‘Oh, I definitely need protein today because I’m low on energy’ or ‘It would be really great for me to have some fruit or vegetables right now because I feel a little stuck’ and I just have never noticed that kind of effect on my body before.”
The students take responsibility and practice life skills by taking part in meal planning, budgeting, grocery shopping and cooking. The dinners are planned out on a 4-week rotation and include meals like Lasagna Stuffed Spaghetti Squash, Loaded Sweet Potato Bar, and Cajun Shrimp Tacos. All the dinner recipes are in a binder, and the students “edit” the recipes as a home, making adjustments as they learn what they like and dislike. Students are offered flexibility in that they are allowed to loosely follow the recipes as long as they use the ingredients they were given. They have also learned the value of improvising when necessary.
In the future, we hope to adjust the menu rotation based on the season and the students’ evaluations. While these changes have only affected the dinner menu so far, we are working to enact the changes for breakfast and lunch as well. Future goals also include having our own farm on campus that will directly contribute to the meals the students are eating on a daily basis.
“Partly the goal is to really emphasize that our relationship with food starts with more awareness of where food comes from, how we grow, nurture, and develop it and its impact on our bodies. Eventually we want to do everything from raising animals to growing more of our own fruits and vegetables,” said Mike Haarer. “Students are already eating fresh salads with lettuce grown in lettuce towers in our on-campus greenhouse. We also have pasture land and own livestock adjacent to our student homes.”
Overall, we want our students to learn to enjoy food, understand where it comes from, and learn to make healthy choices that have a lasting positive impact on their lives. By teaching them experientially in our therapeutic environment, we not only help them to eat healthy food while they are here, but we equip them with knowledge and create patterns to help them when they leave as well.