College Food: Do You Want Fries with That?

I don’t know about all of you, but for me, when I was heading to college (Which is longer ago than I care to reveal!) food options weren’t even a consideration. I didn’t think about comparing one school’s dining options to another one’s. You went to college, ate in the dining hall, went out on an occasional basis off-campus and that was it. Now, this arena is vastly different. Colleges vie to be on the “Best College Food in America” list. Why is this? Since this is another way for them to complete and, students and families look for this and it can be a game changer. (Just in case you were wondering, UCLA, Virginia Tech and UMass Amherst are the top 3.)

Fast forward to today. When a friend’s daughter was searching for colleges, the teen was so enthusiastic about the college food court, you would have thought she was planning a career in the culinary arts. But no, the sight of a certain food shop (Possibly Starbucks?) or certain foods gave her that familiar sense of home. That alone gave her the ability to consider the move to a college 250 miles away. Don’t discount the importance to a student of where and what they are going to eat.

When planning a college visit, you can contact the admissions office to see if they provide vouchers or passes for the college dining hall or eateries. Some do and some don’t. Either way, even if they don’t, go visit the dining halls, take in what the options are and taste some food. In addition, most schools have branded restaurants on campus, such as a Starbucks or a Panera, or maybe something more local to the college. Discover what these options offer by ordering and tasting. What you also want to do is go off campus to see what dining options may be available. At a school like George Washington University they don’t have your typical dining hall. They provide a meal card that you put money on and in and around campus are various restaurants that you can use your card at. Is that option what every student wants? Probably not, but to some that may be the perfect option.

Incoming students should always experience the various dining options in and around campus and sample their menu. What should be considered is does the student feel strongly about meals made with locally grown and organic ingredients? Are they vegetarian, do they have food sensitivities, is there enough of a variety and does the food look and taste fresh? Are they a fan of water fountains instead of plastic water bottles, and silverware versus plastic? Then these are the small details to make note of. Of course, it may be, that the student isn’t interested in the dining options and this isn’t a big part of their decision on where to attend. That is completely fine but still, take it all in to understand what is available.

Understanding your needs and evaluating all of this from the start will prevent a potentially disappointing surprise come the first week of school. When you consider that a typical day to consume food involves doing so 3, 4, or 5 times, this is something to take into serious consideration. After all, your stomach, and your body, are crucial to learning and growing.