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Latest Trends in Campus Dining

Across the Country

The Princeton Review announces Top 20 Ranked Colleges for Best Campus Food

Rice University In Texas Named #19 In The Country!

The Princeton Review’s “The Best 382 Colleges,” published each year since 1992, ranks colleges based on students reported satisfaction with their schools in 62 different categories. Best Campus Food is always a hot topic!

“In researching our guides to help high school students determine the best college for them, we have learned that food is becoming an increasingly important factor in their decision-making process,” stated Rob Franek, Editor in Chief, The Princeton Review, “College Food Services have made incredible efforts to enhance students’ dining experience and also to educate them about the food they eat.”

College dining continues to evolve in exciting ways, as campus dining professionals look for ways to improve the dining experience for students and also to make smart decisions about sourcing, sustainability and the foods they offer.

Below are examples of what this year’s top 5 schools are doing and some trends that show how college dining continues to evolve:

For this year’s edition of “The Best 382 Colleges,” The Princeton Review surveyed 137,000 students at 382 top schools. Here are some fun facts about this year’s top 5 ranked colleges in the Princeton Review’s Best Campus Food category:

  1. University of Massachusetts Amherst  -  UMass Amherst prides itself on offering healthy, sustainable and delicious food, as well as creating special theme nights, holiday events and other fun experiences to make dining a wonderful experience for their students.  Fun fact: the most popular item they serve is sushi and the staff prepares 4,000 sushi rolls A DAY!
  2. Bowdoin College  -  Bowdoin meals are made from scratch using vegetables, fruits and herbs from their organic garden, offering international cuisines and recipes contributed by students and their families. They have eliminated most trans fats and corn syrup from their menus and bake most of their desserts, muffins, and breads in their own bake shop to ensure the quality of ingredients being used.
  3. Washington University in St. Louis  -  Besides offering delicious food, Wash U’s Dining Services have a strong commitment to sustainability. Besides purchasing food locally, they convert fryer waste oil into biofuel, provide recyclable or reusable dishes and have eliminated the use of plastic bags. Their Director of Nutrition, formerly head of the American Dietetic Association offers students consultations to discuss their dietary needs. At Studio 40, students, faculty and staff can attend events, themed cooking classes and demonstrations, or the popular Dine with the Dietician monthly cooking classes.
  4. Olaf College  -  St. Olaf gets some of their vegetables and herbs from their student-run organic farm and is committed to buying foods that are grown and produced locally. Meat and poultry is raised without antibiotics or growth hormones and apples come from an orchard just minutes from campus. Almost everything they serve is made from scratch!
  5. James Madison University  -  James Madison University offers tons of delicious food options, on top of innovative sustainability.  Biodegradable bags collect waste in the East Campus Dining Hall, which is composted into fertilizer. Their website offers nutritional information about the food they serve in the dining halls, as well as nutritional information about the local restaurants students frequent.


For the list of the Top 20 schools ranked as having “Best Campus Food,” please go to:   www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings?rankings=best-campus-food

Trends in Campus Dining Across the Country

“Every one of the schools recognized for “Best Campus Food” by The Princeton Review should be lauded for their focus on delicious, healthy and sustainable dining,” stated Rob Franek.  “As I travel around the country, visiting schools and attending special dining events, I am blown away by the thoughtfulness and care that dining services put into feeding and educating students about food. These are some of the trends that we are seeing:”


Menus of Change, an initiative from The Culinary Institute of America and Harvard that works to help institutions offer more healthy, sustainable and delicious food; launched the Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, a working group of food service and academic members from more than thirty colleges who are researching ways to offer healthier, more sustainable, plant-forward diets and are now sharing their insights and recommendations with other colleges. (http://www.moccollaborative.org)

Focus on Educating Students

Colleges are offering tasting demonstrations and presentations about special foods to engage students. Some bring in the local farmers or fisherman they buy from, to educate students about their products. Other hold forums about sustainability and food ethics, bringing in professors who can share their research. “Not only do we think about nourishing our students, but we want to have an impact on how they think about food; that they learn about local sourcing, think about eating more plant-based protein and less red meat, that after graduation, they will be educated diners when they go to restaurants--and hopefully, will not want to subsist on junk food!” explained Christopher Howland, Purchasing & Marketing Manager Auxiliary Enterprises, UMass Amherst.

Involving Students in Dining Decisions

No more “you get what you get, and you don’t get upset”—students are getting more of a voice in what they eat. Many schools have established student dining committees that meet to share what’s going on in dining services and allow students to offer feedback. Many schools set up systems on their website or with comment cards and promise to get back to students in 48 hours or less. Other schools have recipe contests, allowing students to share dishes that are important to their culture.

Dietary Concerns Have Become Mainstream

In the past, schools might have made accommodations for vegetarians and students who keep kosher. Now many also offer vegan, gluten-free and dairy-free options.

More Plant-Based Protein

Hundreds of colleges have established Meatless Mondays on campus and top dining facilities pride themselves on offering tasty vegetarian and/or vegan options daily.  “We are always looking for yummy vegetable entrees that have wide appeal to vegetarians and meat eaters alike,” stated Michele Gaillard,  Associate Director of Operations, Dining Services at Bowdoin.

Nurturing Mind, Body and Soul

College dining services focus on making the whole dining experience special and attention is paid to lighting and the attractiveness of dining halls.  Some  colleges have dining rooms that are set up like restaurants, others offer candlelight dinners and theme evenings; others offer guest chefs.  “I have had the opportunity to guest judge campus cook offs where chefs from other colleges came and cooked at one university,” explained Mr. Franek. “The students loved having the opportunity to try new dishes and it contributes to their feeling cared for by their school.  “College dining is a great way for universities to nurture their students.  Making meals a positive social experience contributes a lot to students’ views of their school.”

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