Eating in the school cafeteria or dining hall can become a bit dull if you only ever line up at the burger and fries station. Instead of blowing all your money on eating out, try some of these tips to boost your cafe experience from zero to 100. Keep reading for 15 awesome hacks to make the most out of your cheap college food!
1. Bring your own salad dressing to the dining hall.
The perfect dressing can take your salad to the next level. From my experience, college cafeterias do not offer much variety when it comes to dressing, and the ones that they do have might taste a little off. Pack your favorite dressing in a small sauce cup, or if you’re feeling adventurous, bring the whole bottle. No one will judge you.
2. Make your own pizza bagels!
Pop a bagel in the toaster for one minute, then head over to the pizza station and spread some marinara sauce on it. Round it off with a stop at the salad bar for some shredded cheese and pop your bagels in the microwave for two minutes. Voila, you’ve got DIY pizza bagels.
3. Scope out all the food stations in the dining hall first, before you decide.
I count at least 10 times that I’ve left the cafeteria unsatisfied with my dinner, only to realize on the way out that they had my favorite turkey chili at the soup station. The menu gets changed up pretty much every day, so make sure you see what’s being served at all of the locations before you settle for the same plain pizza again.
4. Create some ice cream cookies for yourself!
Why eat your soft serve out of a stale cone when you could maximize your dessert options? Pick up some cookies from the desert bar (my favorites are the ones with M&Ms) then dispense your ice cream onto one cookie. Press the other one on top and enjoy the ice cream sandwich.
5. Play bartender.
Remember the joy you felt when your mom let you fill up your own cup at McDonald’s for the first time? If you’re like me, you went and took a little from each soda brand on the machine (including root beer because you didn’t know any better). Why not bring that back? Lemonade mixed with Sprite is intensely good, and adding blue Powerade to your Mountain Dew gives it an extra flavor blast. Throw some fresh cucumbers from the salad bar or berries into any boring glass of water for some extra flavor.
6. Become the waffle iron and panini press expert.
Do not fear the waffle iron! Same for the toaster ovens and panini presses… These mysterious kitchen tools may look intimidating at first, but you can always ask another student or a caf employee for help with operating them. Don’t let the fear keep you from enjoying a potentially great meal. Learning how to use the machines leads to many more food options. Make any boring sandwich a hot one- get creative with these appliances!
7. Incorporate the salad bar toppings with other meals.
There’s all kinds of good stuff there! If you’re not going to put them on a salad, you might as well add some extra olives and peppers to your pizza, some grilled chicken to your fettucine alfredo, or a dash of cheese to your potato soup.
8. Make a root beer (or any soda) float!
Back to the ice cream machine you go! Top off a glass of Coke with vanilla soft serve for a fizzy sweet treat. You deserve it.
9. Save the fresh fruit and veggies for healthy snacks later on.
Take advantage of the fruit section in the cafeteria and combine what you find to fix yourself a fresh fruit salad! Some cantaloupe, grapes, strawberries and chopped apples make a great snack at any time of the day, as do any of the veggie toppings in the salad bar.
10. Plan ahead: take a box to-go.
Don’t have time for a sit down meal? Most college cafeterias understand how busy you are and will give you a Styrofoam box to take what you want if you just ask.
11. Enhance your eggs!
If your school cafeteria doesn’t have an omelet station, you can get the same effect from adding your favorite toppings to your scrambled eggs. A few peppers, diced tomatoes, some ham and cheese will make for a fabulous breakfast.
12. Pre-fill your refill.
You’re not going to feel like getting up for refills, so go ahead and take two glasses of your choice beverage back to your table.
13. Have breakfast for dinner.
Cafeterias usually leave their cereal, bagel, and toast section open throughout the lunch and dinner service. If you’re in the mood to have cereal for supper, you absolutely can!
14. Bring a thermos or to-go mug to store any beverage or soup in for later.
You can fill up a thermos with any cold or hot beverage (or even soup) and store it in your dorm room for later.
15. Bake your own brownie.
Indulge in a luxurious dessert, compliments of the caf. Stick a brownie in the microwave (BRIEFLY, or it will burn or get hard!) and top it off with some ice cream. The warmth of the brownie combined with the coldness of the ice cream will have taste buds tingling.