Sometimes, attracting students to a college campus may come down to a very simple question: which college has the best campus dining services? Here are some serious contenders. Even the pickiest of eaters would likely find something tasty at these college cafeterias.
- Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine): Two residence dining halls house the main college cafeterias, but these "restaurants" feature food that would be at home on a five-star menu: locally-sourced vegetable ragout atop fresh-made sourdough, spinach from the on-campus garden topped with candied pecans and Danish bleu cheese crumbles, albacore sashimi with fresh wasabi, and, of course, lobster. A student run-organization, the Organic Garden Club, partners with the campus dining services to provide much of the produce served on campus. Additionally, the main dining hall, Thorne, features a panoramic view of the pines that envelope the campus.
- Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, PA): The dining services staff at Bryn Mawr is committed to customization. Students are encouraged to send handwritten notes and make suggestions on the dining service's Facebook page. Not only do the chefs and staff respond to the suggestions, but they do so with award-winning flare. The Princeton Review placed Bryn Mawr at No. 9 for best food on a college campus in 2013. Vegetarians, vegans, and anyone who thinks food should be nutritious and undeniably delicious will be delighted with the offerings here. Throughout the semester, there are special events where they serve up unique and themed fare.
- Duke University (Durham NC): The school offers innumerable choices of foods at late night and early morning hours at many of the on-campus dining locations. Locally-grown produce, freshly prepared deli sandwiches, Kosher options, and prime cuts of beef are just a few possibilities available in the dining halls and restaurants on campus. Quiche, fresh-baked croissants, and smoothies are also offered, and the school features off-campus meal plans, so students not living in the dorms can take advantage of the dining halls' excellent quality and commitment to great customer service.
- Gustavus Adolphus College (St. Peter, MN): The menu options at Gustavus Adolphus College change regularly based upon feedback from diners and what is in season. In addition to tailoring menus and service to diners' preferences, the school has been awarded accolades for sustainable practices: The Sustainable Endowments Institute gave the school an A in 2010-2011 for their efforts related to sustainability, according to the school's website. By sourcing locally, composting all organic waste across campus, and using only fair trade coffee and antibiotic and hormone-free milk, the campus dining services reveal a clear dedication to healthy and nutritious food and a commitment to a healthy environment.
- Kennesaw State University (Kennesaw, GA): Winner of 2013's Operator Innovations Award from the National Restaurant Association, this university offers a farmer's market with products that can be found in the dining halls. Along with a commitment to locally-harvested products, Kennesaw State also gives students access to national and internationally known brands. The dining service's long list of awards are featured on the school's official website: 2013 Residential Dining Concept Silver Award from the National Association of College & University Food Services, 2012 Top 10 in The Daily Meal's "Best Colleges for Food in America," and 2012 Sustainability Award from the National Association of College & University Food Services. The dining services rely heavily on local agricultural goods, including the on-campus farm.
- Pitzer College (Claremont, CA): As participants in Bon Appetit's Circle of Responsibility Program, the staff develops the menu with each diner's health in mind while acknowledging how the health of the individual, the community, and the planet are integrated. The menu is consistently changing depending on the season and availability of local and sustainably-sourced products. Also, vegetarians and vegans can feel equally at home with their carnivorous classmates at this Claremont campus, as every meal includes options for these diners. Additionally, many of the menu choices are cooked to order and allow the diner to select vegetables, meats, and other ingredients that they would like in their stir fry, pizza, or omelet.
- Roger Williams University (Bristol, RI): To say that this university caters to the individual diner is an understatement. It strives to accommodate any dietary restriction, even if that means making a dish that is one of a kind. But the philosophy behind the food also reflects a commitment to the environment: Chefs use locally-grown products, and all of the carry-out containers are compostable. The campus mixes access to nationally recognized chains with a rich selection of locally-grown products. Dining halls offer a wide variety of delicious food in a fashion that is environmentally conscious. And it's tasty to boot -- the school says its food ranks in the country's top 5 percent based on findings from a student satisfaction survey.
- St. Olaf College (Northfield, MN): This historic liberal arts college offers everything from high-end gourmet dishes to old-fashioned comfort food sourced from local farms. A student-run farm provides a major component of just about every recipe in the dining halls, and nearly every meal is made from scratch. Locavores may have found their campus -- when the food does not come directly from the on-campus farm, it often comes from local farms that surround this idyllic campus.
- University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, CA): Offerings include made-from-scratch guilty pleasures, but the dining services staff also prides itself on offering healthy options. Its popular AskDolores program, which is facilitated by Dolores Hernandez, the UCLA Dining Services Nutrition Education Coordinator, is a testament to this commitment. Students, staff, and faculty have the opportunity to learn the nutritional content of all food sold on campus and ask questions about the culinary choices available. Many of these choices are familiar American favorites, but fusion and a wide-variety of international choices are also available. Finally, UCLA was named by PETA2 as one of the best large colleges for vegan diners in 2010.
- University of Georgia (Athens, GA): This school's dining services are consistently ranked in the top 20 in the nation by the Princeton Review for student satisfaction. Dining options include a wide-variety of ethnic foods as well as the staples you might expect, such as fried chicken, meatloaf, spaghetti, and macaroni and cheese. Low-fat, vegetarian, and vegan options are also prevalent. The campus was recently featured in a USA Today article that revealed UGA's commitment to providing food for students' dietary needs, including a wide selection of gluten-free choices.
If recent trends are any indication, college cafeterias will continue to become more innovative and more sophisticated. For potential students, this may make the decision regarding which college to attend an even harder choice. But if there was ever a good problem to have, this is one of them.