When it comes to college dining, helpful tips will always be appreciated. Whether your school doesn’t have plentiful dining options or you just need a couple extra ideas to help keep the dining hall’s rotation appealing, here are 10 ways to make living with a meal plan so much better/easier.
1. Bring your own dressings and sauces
I once saw this guy walk into the dining hall with his own large bottles of sriracha and honey mustard (because the dining hall always seems to be out of one of the most necessary dipping sauces) and my life has never been the same again. I felt a lot of things. I thought it was funny, but mostly I felt admiration and respect. Ever since then, If I eat in the dining hall, I try to make sure I have the dressings and sauces I want, especially since they make any meal better. I don’t lug around giant bottles of mustard around; I always seem to have morning classes and I’m not that committed to always having dipping sauces, but if I remember to take a little dish of ketchup with me when I head to the dining hall for dinner, it’s always a plus.
2. Know the menu before you go
In terms of food, you know exactly what you like, so it’s always a good idea to know the dining hall’s menu when you decide to go. This way, you can plan what you’ll eat if you’re trying to keep your choices healthy or if there are certain foods that you need or want to avoid like meat and nuts. Most dining hall venues actually have an app that will tell you what will be on the menu for the entire week. The app would also include a calorie count and what foods are vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free. If you have any specific questions or requests you could always ask one of the dining hall employees.
3. Download the campus app
In addition to downloading your dining hall app, which I highly recommend doing, some college campuses actually have their own apps. On this type of app, the college probably has all of their different events, socials, and club meetings listed on a calendar. In the biographies of these events, it will states whether or not food is offered. This is a great tool because you will get to eat catered food from restaurants around the area for free. You’ll also socialize and meet new people at these events. Either way, it’s a win-win. If your college doesn’t have an app, then all of this information can probably be found on a page of their website.
4. Add chicken to everything
Whether its salad, pasta, or a wrap; everything’s better with chicken in my opinion. It’s also always ample in the dining hall, with numerous variations. You really can’t go wrong with chicken. Chicken, or a meat-free option like tofu or beans, can add extra flavor to a dining hall dish you may have already had three times that week. It also adds protein to your meal, which will help you ward off those annoying “in-between-meals” hunger pains.
5. Bring your own to-go containers
When you go to the dining hall and they have the one option you really like, extra bread, or you want to get another meal to take home, you will want to-go containers. Don’t be like me and always forget your plastic containers. It gets frustrating.
6. Take advantage of the salad bar
If your dining hall has a full salad bar, I urge you to use it. Not only for the health benefits of the greens, but fresh vegetables are really expensive. On average it costs 8-15 dollars to make one salad. You can walk into the dining hall and take as many vegetables and salad mix-ins as you want and it’s already pre-paid. Cherish that.
7. Try not to live only on carbs
I know it’s tempting with the many pizza and pasta options, but try not to only resort to carbs. You’ll eventually feel groggy and with your two tests, five papers, and three meetings you will have no time to take a nap. So, on a typical super busy day, you would probably feel better having a lighter meal. However, I am also a firm believer in the words “treat yourself” so if it’s been a hard week go for the mac and cheese if that’s what you’ve been craving.
8. Make your own awesome desserts…In the dining hall
I do try to be healthy most of the time, but I also freaking dessert. When the typical cookie or brownie isn’t what you are feeling up for, then it’s always a good idea to put a spin on everyday sweet treats to make them extra-worth it. If your dining hall has a microwave, you could heat up the cookies and brownies and then eat them with chocolate syrup and ice cream a la mode style. Put ice cream or soft serve in soda and boom, you’ve got a float. Stop by the all-day breakfast station for some extra ice cream or brownie toppings like peanut butter, fruit, and nuts. Make a waffle while you’re at it to make a hot ice cream sandwich. Basically, anything that has to do with ice cream is a perfect dessert in my opinion.
9. Stock up or grab and go
Let’s face it, in college there are days where we don’t have time to sit down for our meals. With only 15 minutes between classes, night jobs, and pages of homework every night, some weeks it just seems like we don’t even have a spare second. That’s when you have to resort to the old grab and go. My college has specifically designed to-go meals that you can pick up outside the dining hall. However, if your school doesn’t have a system like this, or the pre-designed to-go meals aren’t tickling your fancy, then you can walk into the dining hall to grab a quick snack and be out in five minutes. I’ll usually fill a paper cup with cereal, grab a banana and an orange, and fill up my water bottle. Doing a quick walkthrough is also a good tactic for when you need to stock up on some things like fruit or milk for your apartment. Or, just grab a handful of cookies and finally go take a well-deserved break.
10. Know where to go when the dining hall closes
One of the best tips I learned for navigating the dining hall is actually finding out what to do and where to go when it inevitably closes for the night. We’ve all been there, it’s 10pm and our easiest access to food is no longer an option. While you could head out to a late-night drive through, finding a ride there might not always be an option. If you don’t want to resort to the old snacks in your room, most colleges have “after-hours” dining options. Whether it be a second dining hall or a cafe, the normal campus amenities will have you covered most of the time. If not, the campus app or website will help you out here. Find an open event or meeting with good food and go. There should be no shame in your finding food game.