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College Dining Services: Food on Campus

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Students will always worry about the dreaded “freshman fifteen” and college dining services will always vary slightly from school to school, but one thing’s for certain—food on campus has changed a lot over the past few years!

Colleges are paying more attention to the needs and wants of students. From food courts and sushi bars to coffee shops and vegetarian dining halls, campus cafeterias have undergone a major transformation in the last two decades.

College Food Trends: Then and Now

“Curriculums and majors can all be the same from school to school,” Rich Turnbull, Oregon State University’s head of dining services, tells The Daily Beast. “Food and customer service are where you can provide both parents and applicants that ‘wow’ factor.”

Sodexo, one of the largest foodservices and facilities management companies in the world, provides college dining services to approximately 600 campuses across the country. The company prides itself on the way it carefully monitors students’ taste buds.

“Parents of college students have cultivated very creative palates in their children by exposing them to many flavors through restaurants, travel, living abroad and creative homecooking,” said Tom Post, president of campus dining for Sodexo. “Our expert chefs on campuses love to serve and dazzle customers with this high level of culinary literacy and we stay on top of the trends to deliver authentic, healthy options.”

With 20 years worth of menus from hundreds of cafés served by the company and in keeping step with the latest flavor trends, Sodexo came up with the top ten foods preferred by college students today and twenty years ago.

College Food Trends in 1989

1. Fruit and cottage cheese plate

2. Chicken nuggets

3. Turkey Tetrazini

4. Chicken Chop Suey

5. Egg, bacon and cheese English muffin

6. Half sandwich and cup of soup

7. Taco bar

8. Spanish beef and rice

9. Vegetarian bean chili

10. Algerian lamb stew

College Food Trends in 2009

1. Locally-grown fruits and veggies

2. Crispy garlic-ginger chicken wings

3. Mac ’n five cheeses

4. Vietnamese Pho

5. Green tea and pomegranate smoothies

6. Crab cake sliders

7. Mini samosas

8. Tilapia Veracruz

9. Goat cheese salad (with lavendar lentils)

10. Chicken Molé

College Food Trends in 2010

Sodexo’s college food trends for 2010 were different yet again.

1. Apricot-glazed Turkey

2. Meatloaf with Frizzle-Fried Onions

3. Vietnamese Pho

4. Vegetarian Lentil Shepherd’s Pie

5. Chicken Adobo (Mexican Stew with Chilies)

6. Stuffed Pork Chops

7. Vegetarian Jambalaya

8. Lemon Herbed Baked Tilapia

9. Rotisserie Chicken

10. Home Style Pot Roast

Going Green by Going Tray-less

In an effort to cut food costs while saving water and energy, cafeteria trays are slowly disappearing from college campuses. When students use cafeteria trays, they tend to take food until they run out of tray space. Take away the trays, and they can only take what they can carry by hand.

According to TIME, “Dining facilities on campuses take up to five times more water, five times more energy, five times more waste per square foot than the dorm,” says Monica Zimmer, a spokeswoman for Sodexo.

A 2008 study conducted by Aramark, another dining company that serves about 500 schools across the country, found that students waste 25% to 30% less food when they aren’t carrying a tray. Dining halls save an average of one-third to one-half gallon of wash water per tray.

The University of Maine-Farmington stopped using cafeteria trays in 2007. “It’s a simple idea with profound consequences,” Theo Kalikow, the school’s president, told USA Today. “There’s less food waste, less energy consumed and less water used.”

College Meal Plans: Choose What You Need

At many colleges, all students who live on campus are required to purchase meal plans from the school. A few different choices are usually available, but points systems and plans that provide a certain number of meals per week (ten meals a week, fourteen meals a week, and so on) are both fairly common. Some resident students decide to forgo campus meal plans and pay cash for each meal instead—if their college allows it, of course.

Students may or may not be able to carry over their leftover meals, points or money to the next semester. Some schools also allow students to change their plan preference in the course of the semester if they find they have too many or too few meals.

When it comes to choosing a meal plan, syndicated advice columnist Harlan Cohen, author of The Naked Roommate: And 107 Other Issues You Might Run into in College, suggests starting big.

“If you’re someone who’s living on campus and you’re a full-time student, it’s a good idea to start with the suggested meal plan,” he tells the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “It’s better to have more meal options than not enough meal options.”

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Melissa Rhone+

Melissa Rhone earned her Bachelor of Music in Education from the University of Tampa. She resides in the Tampa Bay area and enjoys writing about college, pop culture, and epilepsy awareness.


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