Avantae Black hasn't always been a healthy eater. But the second-year Elgin Community College student is well on her way to a new lifestyle after crafting a healthier menu for the college's Food for Thought Cafe.
The cafe, in the college's main library, opened for the fall semester with a makeover. Black got a job with ECC Food Services Director Maria Terry earlier this summer, crafting a cafe menu designed with health-conscious, calorie-counting, gluten-free students and faculty members in mind.
And in the meantime, the 20-year-old Elgin woman has learned a lot.
"It's definitely got me changing some eating habits," Black said.
Terry, a dietitian and chef, spent much of last year touring cafes across the region and as far away as Florida, testing recipes and hosting panels for tastings.
Wraps, smoothies and juices dominate the menu with a black bean bowl, harvest bowl and "pure pad thai" also available. The twist on traditional pad thai includes kelp noodles and almonds instead of peanuts.
"This generation is different," Terry said. "This generation is extremely interested in nutrition, eating healthy and eating from the earth."
The entire menu was developed in-house. The smoothies, juices and meals are made with only fresh ingredients and come from the region or nearby states. Some of the fruits and vegetables come from ECC's own culinary department organic farm.
Terry said the ECC community should expect fresh food year-round with no high fructose corn syrup or other additives. All the juices are made on-site with whole foods, no fruit purees. And the cafe is run with an eye toward sustainability and minimal waste.
For first-year ECC student Victor Lopez, 30, the redesigned cafe came just in time. Lopez, of Schaumburg, is used to cafeterias offering quick and easy food options but few that are nutritious.
So the ECC cafe suits Lopez. He is enrolled at ECC in hopes of becoming a dietitian. Food for Thought Cafe was more of a nice surprise when he arrived on campus.
"It's good to come to a place where you can get something healthy," Lopez said.
The cafe is open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday and closed Friday through Sunday while classes are in session.