One of my biggest concerns when entering college was the infamous dining hall food. I was born and bred on my mama’s cooking, so the prospect that I would no longer have that every day was a little worrisome for me. But after two years of dining hall experience, I have learned the ins and outs of the place to make it feel a little more like home. Here are my tips as a Dining Hall Connoisseur™:
1. Treat yourself to an egg & cheese breakfast sandwich
Put eggs from the breakfast station in between a bagel/English muffin/toast and add some cheese and any other extras to complete this hearty way to start the morning.
2. Have a little fiesta before class with this breakfast burrito
A step up from the breakfast sandwich. Combine eggs, potatoes, salsa or tomatoes, black beans, and sour cream in a wrap.
3. Drag yourself out of bed and get to the dining hall early for breakfast
I’m far from being a morning person, but the fruit and good pastries that are usually gone by 9:15ish are worth it. Also, no long lines!
4. Mix your basic salad up with a little bit of protein
Take chicken from the grill section, cut it up, and put it in a salad. That simple.
5. Toss out the high-fat dressing for a low-fat alternative
Instead of using the bottles of high-fat salad dressing the cafeteria has, I combine olive oil, lemon, and a bit of salt as a healthier substitute.
6. Ditch the ready made pasta salads and customize your own
My dining hall just got a pasta station last semester (God bless them). So if I ever want something a little different or lighter than penne pasta with tomato sauce, I take plain pasta from there to the salad bar and add whatever vegetables I’m feeling. On that same note, you make your typical penne pasta dish a little healthier by adding vegetables from the salad bar and heating them up in the microwave.
7. I can’t believe it’s not Chipotle!
I’m pretty sure my body is about 67% Chipotle, so here’s a hack for everyone in the same boat. If one of the stations happens to be serving rice, instead of eating it plain, add things like black beans, chicken, tomato, and lettuce to it to make it a more flavorful rice bowl.
8. Have a little fiesta after class too with some nachos
In the last two months or so of the spring semester, my dining hall did something amazing: they started serving tortilla chips. I would add sour cream, tomatoes, black beans, and cheese to it to make it a surprisingly filling meal. This also counts as a salad, right?
9. Steam vegetables as a gourmet side
Sometimes (read: a lot of the time) I’m just not feeling raw vegetables and salad, but I still need them in my diet. What I like to do is take something like broccoli, put a dash of salt and a little bit of water on top, and microwave to get steamed broccoli.
10. Craving the peanut sauce from your favorite Thai restaurant? Make your own!
Mix peanut butter, soy sauce, and hot sauce to taste to create this unique sauce for vegetables and/or chicken.
11. Make a pizza bagel instead of dabbing a slice with a napkin
Bagel + tomato sauce from the pasta section + cheese from salad section + microwave = healthier version of the oily pizza they serve.
12. Make some grilled cheese with soup on a rainy day
Any time the cafeteria served tomato soup, especially if it was a rainy day, I would go to the sandwich station and ask for American cheese in bread to be toasted. This makes for a good mock (and healthier!) grilled cheese sandwich perfect alongside any soup, really.
13. Enjoy a taste of the South with the chicken and waffles classic
Unfortunately, my dining hall doesn’t serve chicken fingers, but if they did, I would definitely pair some with a waffle and syrup. (Can you tell I go to school in the south?)
14. Or spice up your ordinary waffles
Let’s be honest, dining hall waffles are a little bland. So before you pour the batter in the waffle iron, mix some toppings, like chocolate chips or walnuts, into it.
15. Celebrate the end of the week with an ice cream soda float
I think this is a dining hall classic. Simply put ice cream in a cup and add whatever soda you’d like. A nice way to treat yourself after an exam.
16. Bring Tupperware to save food for later
So technically this isn’t allowed at my school, but you can get away with it if you hide the Tupperware well enough. A good strategy is to take fruits and vegetables from the salad bar to snack on. Or, if you’re really ambitious and have a blender in your dorm’s kitchen, turn those fruits into a smoothie.
17. Get to know the chefs and staff
You’re going to be seeing them just about every day, and they work really hard to make sure you’re staying full and happy. It can be easy to take that for granted. A genuine smile, please, and thank you can make the experience a whole lot more pleasant on both ends, and you might end up befriending some cool people.