20 U.S. Colleges with the Best Dining Experiences
Campus food might not be a top priority when weighing college options, but it's closely linked to the experience. After all, the right food can fuel both hungry minds and bellies — as well as community, by bringing people together around the table. With this in mind, we've curated a list of the top college cafeterias in America based on the quality of the dining choices and higher education, so you can make a truly educated decision.
With a focus on world flavors, health, sustainability, and community, meals at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst are sourced from local vendors and campus gardens, and there are student-run farmers market and frequent events such as campus barbecues and harvest dinners. Four traditional dining halls, 18 cafes, two food trucks, a bakeshop, and delivery services accommodate a variety of diets — there's even an app to plan ahead.
The University of California Los Angeles dishes up innovative, culturally diverse cuisine to keep its students well fed, featuring at four all-you-can-eat dining halls — including one of the country's first health-themed dining halls and one inspired by American street food cuisine — as well as four restaurants, late-night eateries/coffee bars, and an online service that allows students to order pizza and wings to pick up. It's an especially good place for vegans and vegetarians: The school has won awards for vegan-friendliness, and offers a range of nutrition resources, including a registered dietitian on campus.
Vanderbilt University chefs buy local and organic when possible, giving students the opportunity to nosh on seasonally rotating fare. Diners can order teriyaki-glazed salmon or craft their own pho or grain bowls for a sit-down meal, or grab ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads from a variety of 24-hour marketplaces. Special pop-ups such as biscuit bars and produce stands add to the variety. Students can use their meal cards to experience a thriving off-campus culinary scene in a "Taste of Nashville" program.
Virginia Tech supports about a dozen unique dining spots on campus, from food trucks and snack kiosks to traditional cafes and food courts with popular chain restaurants. As part of the school's sustainability initiative, the Farms and Fields Project serves up local and organic dishes straight from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences' Kentland Farm; there's also a Meat Science Center, with meat produced and processed right on campus.
The small liberal arts school of St. Olaf College serves delicious, locally sourced food with produce and herbs from the student-run organic farm, Stogrow, and antibiotic- and hormone-free meat and dairy products from local farmers. Themed food events such as the annual Farm to Fork Dinner give students above-and-beyond dining experiences in a beautiful Minnesota setting.
Students at Washington University in St. Louis have their pick of more than two dozen eateries on the 169-acre campus, including kosher, halal, vegetarian, and allergy-free options. The school offers fair-trade coffee, foods from vendors within 150 miles of campus, and hormone-free meats in its dining rooms. In addition to a fresh fruit bar and food hubs dedicated to authentic international fare, stir fry, and barbecue, students can also take part in on-campus cooking classes, pop-up kitchens, and frequent events such as chef competitions, Dr. Seuss Night, and Low-Carbon Diet Day.
Dining at the small liberal arts institution Bowdoin College means grass-fed beef burgers from its in-house meat shop, fruit and vegetables from the on-campus garden, a bakeshop using produce and herbs grown on campus, and ingredients bought locally as often as possible — even seafood from certified local fishmongers. Made-from-scratch dishes often celebrate the diversity of the students, with regional and international menu items and vegan and gluten-free options at every meal.
With PETA-approved vegan offerings and a commitment to sustainability, the University of San Diego has a diverse selection of healthy fare. The university's dining hall, hyperlocal cafe, alumni-owned coffeehouse, and self-operated food truck with an international flair are just some of the ways students can taste San Diego's historical culinary culture — a mix of Kumeyaay Indian, Portuguese, Mexican, Italian, and Asian influences. A campus ID card will even activate the self-serve cold brew tap wall at the popular campus hangout, Aromas.
As the first platinum university in the STARS sustainability rating system, Colorado State University boasts of fresh, delicious food and near-zero waste. The school makes meals from scratch every day at dining stations that include a Mongolian grill, barbecue smoker, bakery with gluten-free items, soups and salads, and sushi bar.
The dining services at Bryn Mawr College know variety is the key to keeping students happy. At the small women's college there are dozens of themed dining events each semester, including Milkshake Mania with a make-your-own milkshake option and the French Peasants Lunch, featuring cheeses, breads, and grapes. Each evening, the school even offers a "specialty bar" ranging from stir fry to breakfast-for-dinner. The college also donates to a regional food bank to feed those in need.
With nearly 30 different food facilities across campus, students at Cornell University can eat well no matter their dietary preference. From "All You Care to Eat" dining halls in residential buildings (one is even gluten-free, peanut-free, and tree-nut-free) to the Sweet Sensations bakery outlet, the university dishes up some top-notch cuisine. The Cornell Dairy Bar serves up ice cream, milk, yogurt, and cheese made at an on-site dairy-processing plant.
In addition to dining halls, bakeries, and cafes, students at Emory University can hit up several food trucks late into the night. The university's dining hall changes up its menu based on local, seasonal ingredients. While the well-stocked salad bar is a healthy go-to option, students can rely on on-campus fast casual chains such as Starbucks. The school advocates for farmworker rights and nutrition education and donates surplus food to local food pantries through a student-run redistribution service.
Middlebury College students can nosh on quinoa-stuffed peppers, lamb scaloppini, or vegan butternut squash linguine while taking in views of the Adirondacks or the nearby town. Dining at Middlebury also means students can eat wherever, whenever, and whatever they'd like for one fee, and nearly all of the school's food waste is composted to cut down on its ecological footprint, while about one-third of the dining budget is spent with local providers.
Northeastern University dining halls include International Village, the first restaurant in New England to earn a 3-Star Certified Restaurant distinction and LEED Gold status, dishing up everything from sushi to brick-oven fare; Levine Marketplace, with eight stations offering a variety of dishes, including chocolate chip cookies; and Stetson West, serving made-to-order stir fry, brick-oven pizzas and calzones, and specialty sandwiches. The school buys seafood and produce from local farms. Xhibition Kitchen hosts celebrity chefs and food-focused events such as Lobstah Night and an "Educate Your Palate" gala to help expand students' knowledge of the culinary world.
Roger Williams University's eight dining destinations aim to source food near campus with a farmer update app that finds the best ingredients available that day. In addition to special meals for Ramadan, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Chinese New Year, the university has an annual lobster-steak dinner and participates in an Eat Local Challenge and Low Carbon Diet Day. Parents can even order "Surprise Your Student" care packages in birthday surprise, snack attack, pizza party, and healthy snack varieties.
The University of Chicago's three dining halls and assorted cafes and late-night markets across campus support local small businesses, many owned by women or people of color, to keep tasty, healthy food in stock for students. A mystery diners program solicits anonymous feedback to keep services improving. Friends and family can also send students cakes, cupcakes, and cookies through the school's "Treats from Home" program.
Yale University's 14 residential colleges foster community with their own dining halls, and an app helps students track nutritional information, rank different dishes, and check real-time seating capacity. There are Local 2 Yale and Erase the Waste initiatives that encourage sustainable food, and even on-campus farming that educates students about agriculture to drive the message home.
A reputation as academically rigorous and forward-thinking extends to a unique food program at Stanford University. In addition to exposure to organic gardens and an educational farm, students can sign up for a variety of one-off cooking classes at The Teaching Kitchen @ Stanford or a one-of-a-kind series such as Jamie Oliver's Cook Smart Program, which teaches basic cooking skills and mindful eating practices. Grab fresh produce from the on-campus farm stand or small-batch dishes such as cabbage and jicama salad with bacon-cilantro dressing or rotisserie chicken with mango mole sauce from one of many dining facilities.
Home to a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant, Bates College fuels hungry students with some standout good and healthy food. Highlights from rotating, locally sourced menus include gluten-free baked tilapia, chipotle-rubbed beef, stir-fried summer squash and pea pods, barbecue pulled beef sandwiches, and vegan chocolate chip cookies. Students can voice opinions about the food options via a virtual "napkin board."
With more than 20 dining spots on campus, students at James Madison University have options. From traditional dining hall dishes and fast food chain meals to açai bowls, gourmet burgers, and grab-and-go sushi, and with food trucks and food-focused challenges at the Madipalooza spring music festival and farm-to-fork dinners, JMU students have access to plenty of food — and plenty of good food focused on fruit, vegetables, lean meats, grains, and low-fat dairy. They can even buy fresh produce from local farms and orchards with the swipe of their meal cards at on-campus farmers markets.
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