Pooja Mansukhani

Pooja Mansukhani joined the Food Services team at the University of Toronto as the Registered Dietitian and Food Safety Officer in July of 2016. She has been working as a Registered Dietitian at the University of Toronto for over two years. Pooja earned her nutrition degree from Ryerson University and also holds a degree in Honours Applied Economics, Co-op from the University of Waterloo. 

Pooja enjoys being active and teaches spin classes in her spare time. She sits on the board of the Ontario Home Economists Association and was formerly the Co-Chair of the Ontario Home Economists in Business. She volunteers with the Sport Nutrition Network of Dietitians of Canada and in various capacities with undergraduate and graduate Nutrition programs in Ontario. Pooja received a Member Recognition Award in the category of Innovation from Dietitians of Canada in 2016. 

Pooja has a passion for local food and sustainability and biked her way through her backyard of southern Ontario for ten days in 2016, visiting and working on farms as part of Otesha’s ‘Pedal to Plate’ bike tour. She enjoys cooking but is a minimalist in the kitchen and is always on the lookout for quick, easy, and nutritious recipes- her current breakfast go-to is a mix of coconut and almond milk, protein powder, chia seeds, nuts and fruits that she prepares the night before. 

After Pooja’s long 9.5 year ‘tenure’ as a post-secondary student, she feels very at home on a university campus and enjoys spending her days working with students, staff, and faculty.  

In the nomination, the student refers to the initiatives that you have undertaken as a Food Services Registered Dietitian as having a significant and positive impact on student wellbeing, linking this to the concept of a Healthy Campus.  Could you tell us a bit more about your work educating the University community about nutrition and healthy eating?

I am fortunate that my job as a Registered Dietitian here at U of T is very dynamic. It enables me to enhance the health of the university community through nutrition and food in a variety of ways. I work with members of the university community to help them learn how to effectively navigate the food environment on campus, helping them identify foods which meet their various nutritional needs as determined by food allergies, dietary restrictions, health conditions, preferences, and health goals. We have a variety of food options on campus and there truly is something for everyone. I also help to disseminate evidence-based nutrition information and help community members sift through the plethora of nutrition-related messages they read on the Internet and hear from peers. I provide nutrition education through workshops and events, but I find that as a single dietitian in Food Services for 84,000 community members, I can’t do it all. This is why campus groups such as the HealthyU Crew are my best ally. They are able to go out into the campus community and work as health and wellness ambassadors, share positive nutritional messages and encourage people to adopt healthy habits.  

As a staff member and Registered Dietitian, we’d be interested to hear from you, your thoughts on the concept of a “healthy campus”. 

As a Registered Dietitian on campus my focus in regards to a “healthy campus” is centred on creating a healthy food environment. Various definitions of food security include the terms, “culturally acceptable,” “nutritionally adequate,” and “meet dietary needs and food preferences” which are all priorities of U of T Food Services and is reflected in the variety of offerings through our many food outlets. We know that food environments affect people’s food purchasing and consumption choices which has an effect on their health outcomes and research has shown a positive relationship between the availability of healthy foods and better diets. At U of T we strive to do two things - the first is to enable our community members to make healthy decisions by setting up a healthy food landscape through strategic menu planning and availability of nutritious foods. Secondly, we try to encourage them to make informed healthy choices through supportive programs and policies including adequate food labelling, educational events, and cooking classes. As a university food service, we hold ourselves to a high standard and possess the view that what we do isn’t simply about selling more food in the way that some of the restaurants in the area might. We have a responsibility to serve food that not only meets the criteria listed above, but also food that nourishes our diverse university population, particularly our students. This means food that enhances learning and aids in developing educated, resilient, collaborative, and engaged individuals. 

We’d also be interested to hear what more you think could be done to foster campus environments that support the wellbeing of our students.

We know that a healthy food environment is just one component of a healthy campus environment, and therefore we as the university’s food services need to work closely with our campus counterparts to foster this. A university is an institution that focuses on learning and academic performance but we must ensure that health and well-being are not sacrificed in the attainment of these goals. University and campus policies must reflect this, not just for the benefit of the students but also for the staff and faculty who work at U of T. It is important that we evaluate how every aspect of the campus can impact and promote health and well-being to achieve collective goals and coordinate policies accordingly. What conditions must we look at? To name a few, the physical spaces that our community members study and work in, support services for physical and mental health (and adequate promotion so that knowledge of these services exists and stigma around their access is minimized), and opportunities to improve and enable social interaction such as clubs and special-interest groups. In being part of a university, we are fortunate to have the opportunity to collaborate on research to evaluate specific interventions based on these conditions which aim to enhance the health of our campus environment. Another important aspect of a “healthy campus” is how we engage with our community and beyond, and this is something that we as U of T Food Services value and continue to expand by working with local producers and groups to enhance our partnerships. Developing a healthy campus environment is a journey, but we know from past experience that small changes can have large effects. 

In the nomination, the student refers to the training session you provided for the peer teams and how it helped them feel more confident in their role as a peer health educator. Please let us know what this nomination as a Healthy Campus Champion means to you personally and/or professionally.

As a newer member of the U of T Food Services team it is an honour to receive this positive feedback. As I mentioned before I am only one person and I cannot reach everyone I’d like to, so I am fortunate to be able to rely on the support and assistance from the HealthyU Crew peer educators. While my role is in its infancy I am grateful that I am already being utilized as an important resource on campus. My professional and personal satisfaction stems from integrating into and becoming immersed in the university community and campus life. If I have a presence on campus and individuals know that I exist and are able to utilize the services that I provide then I know I am successful in my job. We know that individuals often don’t know about health and wellness services offered on campus until they are in dire need of them. If we promote our services more effectively, then our community members will be able to access them faster and receive the support they need.