Navigating Campus Dining Options

College food will soon be an important part your daily life, so it is worth taking a closer look at schools’ food offerings. Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about campus dining options for you to think about.

Will my dietary needs be met?

Vegetarian, vegan. If you’re vegetarian or vegan, you won’t starve on campus. Most colleges having dining services that offer vegetarian and vegan options as part of their everyday meal plans. Some colleges even offer specific lines that are dedicated to vegetarian and vegan dishes.

Gluten-free. Most college dining halls accommodate celiac disease and gluten intolerance. Some schools provide a specific station for people to ensure there are plenty of gluten-free breakfast, lunch, and dinner options.

Allergies. If you have a food allergy or intolerance, it is important to speak to a nutritionist or a dining services staff member to make sure your needs will be met. The former will help you come up with a strategy in navigating the dining options on a college campus.

What are the meal plans?

College meal plans can be overwhelming, as each campus offers a variety of dining options such as cafeterias, campus-run eateries, and different ways to organize your meal plan. Some dining services offer meal plans that include a la carte, which means students pay for each item individually with a card loaded with “dining dollars”, and some sort of meal swipes per week or for the entire semester. Most students living on campus are usually required to participate in a meal plan of some sort and are limited to certain options. Check the policy for each school to determine if dollars and meal swipes are rolled over each year. Most dining services set deadlines by which you have to use the dollars and meal swipes by a certain time or you lose them.

How sustainable are the services?

Green and sustainable initiatives are growing on college campuses each year. Most promote recycling paper, cardboard, plastic, metal, etc. and even have stations around campus to do so. Some campuses have even replaced styrofoam carry-out containers to biodegradable and reusable ones. Many have started to compost leftovers in the dining services kitchens and have stations set up around campus for students to as well. Some make sure to use locally sourced food products and regularly donate to community kitchens.

Do students have a say in their campus dining options?

Some campuses have comment cards in their dining facilities to encourage students to leave their suggestions, questions or concerns about the food being served on campus. Almost all have some sort of student advisory board that is dedicated to dining services. Most of these advisory boards meet weekly or monthly to discuss students suggestions and concerns and advocate what students want out of their college dining experience.

How healthful is the food?

Some schools emphasize the use of fresh, whole, locally grown food and hire executive chefs to prepare healthful and high-quality meals for the students on campus. Many schools also offer convenience and accommodate to busy students schedules by providing a “Grab n Go” type station during breakfast, lunch and dinner. You can get a sense of the food options for each meal and its nutritional data that most schools have located on their dining services website.