Syracuse University Magazine

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Ruth Sullivan

Dietary Delights

When it comes to comestibles on the Syracuse University campus, registered dietitian and nutrition educator Ruth Sullivan ’98 of SU Food Services has the answer to the universal question: “What is there to eat?” She is responsible for making sure that no matter the food preference—vegan, vegetarian, or can’t pass up a cheeseburger—nutritionally balanced meals are available at SU dining halls.

Sullivan works closely with students who have food allergies, intolerances, or diet-related medical conditions. When necessary, she arranges to have food prepared for students with special needs. “We do our best to respond to requests from students for certain foods,” she says. “For example, we had a huge request for almond milk, but that’s a problem for people with nut allergies.” The solution was to put almond milk in a specific location in dining halls, so people could have it without affecting anyone with an allergy to the product.

Sullivan strives to be as approachable as possible to students seeking advice on dietary dilemmas—in dining halls and by text and e-mail. New vegans and vegetarians come to her with questions about how to eat a healthy diet without animal products. Those with such eating disorders as bulimia or anorexia reach out to Sullivan for help as well. After an initial meeting, she refers them to a registered dietitian at Health Services for counseling. Students struggling with weight gain—victims of the infamous “Freshman 15”—find her a friendly and knowledgeable resource. “I sometimes get questions from students at 2 a.m.,” she says.

Educating people on what constitutes a healthy diet is an integral part of Sullivan’s job. “There is so much information out there on the web—not all of it accurate,” she says. “It’s hard for people to know what to believe.” For reliable dietary information, Sullivan recommends the sites of the American Medical Association, the American Dietetic Association, the Mayo Clinic, and choosemyplate.gov.

When it comes to weight loss, people look for a magic bullet, according to Sullivan, whose lifelong interest in health care led her to first consider a nursing career. Instead, she enrolled at SU and majored in nutrition. Five years ago, she returned to campus, joining the Food Services staff. “People don’t realize that a restrictive diet will not work overnight,” she says. “Everyone thinks they should look like Jennifer Aniston, but be able to eat every day at Taco Bell. It just doesn’t work that way.” For the most healthful eating, she suggests watching portion sizes, buying locally produced food, thoroughly washing fruits and vegetables, cooking items carefully, and taking the time to sit down to eat a proper meal. But most of all, she emphasizes enjoying what you eat. “The best thing about my job is that we have fun,” says Sullivan, a vegetarian since age 16 who admits to a fondness for potato chips. “Two years ago, we started ‘Meatless Mondays,’ and they have been a success. Once a month, we have ‘Try Me’ events, featuring a fruit, vegetable, or grain that many people don’t know about, like parsnips or polenta. We made black bean brownies and they were delicious.”

Nine times a year, Sullivan and her staff try new recipes and half of them are so popular they become part of the regular dining hall menu. “We also have special dinners, such as ‘Recipes from Home,’ where we cook a menu made up of students’ favorite foods,” she says. “It’s always a good time.”    —Paula Meseroll

Photo by Steve Sartori



Recipes from Ruth Sullivan

Roasted Parsnips

Note that parsnips at the end of the season (February vs. November) can have a woodier center, which no amount of cooking can soften. If this is the case with your parsnips, you might want to cut some of the center part out and discard before cooking.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 pounds of parsnips, peeled and cut into 2 1/2 inch batons
  • 4 teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1/3 cup of stock: turkey stock, low-sodium chicken stock, or vegetable broth (for vegetarian option)*
  • 3 Tbsp unsalted butter, softened
  • 4 teaspoons drained, bottled horseradish (how to make homemade horseradish)
  • 1/2 Tbsp finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 Tbsp minced chives
  • 1/2 small garlic clove, minced.

*If cooking gluten-free, use homemade stock or gluten-free packaged broth.

Method

1. Pre-heat oven to 400°F. In a large roasting pan, toss the parsnips with the olive oil, salt and pepper. (Use a roasting pan with sides no more than 2 inches high.) Add the broth, cover with aluminum foil and roast, stirring once or twice, until the parsnips are tender and the stock has evaporated or been absorbed, 20-45 minutes (depending on how tender the parsnips are to begin with). Check often to avoid their getting mushy, especially if they are to be reheated later.

2. Combine the softened butter with the horseradish, parsley, chives, and garlic, and season with salt and pepper. Toss the warm roasted parsnips with the horseradish-herb butter and serve.

3. The parsnips (with the oil, salt, pepper, and broth) can be pre-cooked in a covered container in the microwave for 5 minutes. Transfer to oven to finish cooking in a much shorter time. You may want to uncover them to help evaporate the liquid when in the oven.

Serves 4.

 

Baked Cheese Polenta with Tomato Sauce

1 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups instant polenta (I used organic corn grits.)
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion (I used several spring onions using only the white parts.)
2 garlic cloves, chopped
2 14-ounce cans chopped tomatoes (I used organic diced tomatoes with garlic and basil.)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
salt and ground black pepper
3 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated (I used robusto cheese with some grated parmesean.)

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. (I waited to preheat when creating the layers below. No sense having the oven going for more than 20 minutes while the sauce is cooking.)

Line an 11 x 7-inch baking pan with plastic wrap. (I used a 9 x 14-inch baking pan.)

Put 4 cups water into a pan and bring to a boil with the salt.

Pour in the polenta in a steady stream and cook, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes.

Beat in the paprika and nutmeg… (Not sure what they meant by “beat,” the polenta was pretty stiff at this point.)

…then pour into the prepared pan and smooth the surface. Let cool. (Because I used a larger baking pan, the polenta did not spread all the way to the edge.)

Heat the oil in a pan and cook the onion and garlic until soft.

Add the tomatoes, paste, and sugar. Season. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Turn out the polenta onto a cutting board and cut into 2-inch squares.

Place half the squares in a greased ovenproof dish.

Spoon on half the tomato sauce, and sprinkle with half the cheese.

Repeat the layers.

Bake for about 25 minutes until golden.