Those of us who have attended college have at some point eaten a meal in the college dining hall. Depending upon where one attended college, the thought of those meals may still be waking you up at night in a cold sweat. When people used to talk of college dining halls, the words that came to mind were less than flattering. Cold food, undercooked food, mystery meats that gave no clue as to their true identity were the norm for those from the dorm. College food was often thought of as disgusting, and many parents worried how their kids would do when they went off to college and had to start eating at the dining hall.
Well, while there may still be some dining halls that are less than ideal, the college dining experience has definitely undergone a transformation for the better. Gone are the standard cafeteria-like settings, with lunch lines and trays full of non-descript and boring foods. What has replaced them is a smorgasbord of well-known restaurants full of everyone’s favorite foods. The lunch lady in the kitchen stirring the mystery soup has been replaced at many colleges by an executive chef and well-trained kitchen staff, whose job each day is to create culinary masterpieces sure to delight any college student’s stomach.
Better Eats, Better Health
The health implications of having a good college dining hall are numerous. Previously, most students who chose not to eat in the dining hall instead became regulars at local fast-food and pizza places, eating unhealthy meals two or three times per day. This not only leads to weight gain but also other health problems such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure. Most of us have heard of the so-called “freshman 15,” where first-year students would put on an additional 15 pounds due to eating so much unhealthy food. Nowadays, the threat of a huge weight gain is much lower. Students in today’s dining halls have many choices of good, low-fat and low-carb foods that will fill them up without filling them out. Students who have health issues such as diabetes or other conditions requiring special diets can have those taken care of in today’s dining halls. Many more students today are into health and fitness, and are much more careful about what they put in their bodies. Colleges who are emphasizing healthy eating can also cater to these students, helping them stay in shape while completing their studies. Upgraded dining facilities also lead to fewer students getting sick because of what they ate, helping colleges gain a reputation for good food while decreasing the number of students in the infirmary.
Having great food can have a real impact on one’s college education. We are what we eat, and what goes into our bodies can have a real impact on how we feel during the day. Going to class on an empty stomach or with a stomach full of bad food leads to problems with concentration, mood swings, headaches and more. Being able to eat good foods morning, noon and night can help students feel better both physically and mentally. College dining halls are places for students to get together, and the more inviting they are the better students feel. Dining halls such as Virginia Tech’s West End Market offer students everything from Italian restaurants to big-screen TV’s in sports lounges. Students can enjoy good food while catching up with friends, turning dining halls into campus hangouts instead of places to avoid.
Dietary Preferences and Restrictions
When students are deciding which school to attend, the usual stuff comes into play such as academic programs, athletics and extracurricular activities. However, with the evolution of college dining facilities this has also become part of the decision-making process. Students considering a school need to consider the dining facilities as well, particularly if they have a medical condition that requires a special diet. Those students who are vegetarians or vegans also need to take a close look at a college’s dining arrangements. Vegetarians and vegans are becoming more numerous on college campuses, resulting in more schools creating restaurants specifically for this student population. A great example of this is Cornell University’s Moosewood restaurant. An award-winning restaurant, it has dishes to delight every vegan and vegetarian on campus. Those vegetarian students on the west coast should consider UCLA, which recently won an award as the Most Vegan-Friendly College from PETA.
Students taking a look at the dining halls of colleges and universities should also consider the variety of foods offered. While healthy eating is still the goal, many students still like a thick slice of pizza or a big burger and fries now and then. And who can pass up a good chocolate-chip cookie or slice of homemade pie? Some college dining halls, including Virginia Tech and others, actually use recipes from parents of students for some dishes. Sushi, wings, gelato and more are being offered to students on today’s college campuses. Some colleges, such as St. Olaf’s in Minnesota, use meat, poultry and vegetables grown on the campus organic farm. Fruits are brought in from a campus orchard, and dairy products are from nearby farms.
Deciding what college to attend is a big decision, and many factors come into play. When touring a campus or speaking with an admissions counselor, it might be smart to ask about or drop in at the dining hall. Remember, it’s not your mom and dad’s dining hall anymore.