College food gets a bad rap these days. Reputations and expectations of dining hall fare are in the gutter, largely thanks to decades of mushy pasta, bland pizza, and wilted salads. While there are certainly some colleges with culinary offerings that still fit the sad old mold, many colleges are going above and beyond in their culinary offerings, serving students fresh, local, and creative food that some restaurants would be proud to serve. Here are the top five colleges for food in America, based on our third-annual ranking of America’s Best Colleges for Food.
#5 Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.
Tour of Pork, Noodlepalooza, Global Chef, Windy City Chefs, Battle of the Chefs, Street Week, and the WildCat Beach Club are just a few of the spectacular food events that Northwestern University’s dining services host. The college is dedicated to showing its students a deliciously fun time, while still dedicating itself to the important issues of sustainability and nutrition. All six dining halls are tray-free, which reduces waste and encourages students to only take what they need. More than 20 percent of produce purchased by the school is local, and an on-campus dietitian oversees all the menus to ensure ultimate healthfulness, as well as holding quarterly “Meet the Dietitian” events to discuss any concerns students, faculty, and staff may have about healthy eating. Menu options include buffalo chicken nuggets, spinach lasagna with marinara sauce, Tuscan kale salad, and curried rice with lentils, but the off-campus options are just as impressive (Lou Malnati’s is right near campus and is known for the quintessential Chicago deep dish pizza). But if you want to hang around campus, you could always hang out at Fran’s Late Night, a hotspot for studying and late-night dining.
#4 Kennesaw State University, Kennesaw, Ga.
Kennesaw’s dining services are perpetually evolving, with consistently fresh options that are never boring. In fact, there are more than 150 new dishes rolled out each day, and that doesn’t even include the delicious events. Black and Gold dining is an event that occurs twice a month, with high-class offerings like steak, lobster, and king crab. Other mouth-watering events include the Cram Jam, a Jell-O-eating contest, and Get Wild, which features exotic meats like kangaroo, rattlesnake, and emu! But it doesn’t stop there: Kennesaw is one of the most committed universities to sustainability and health. The campus dietitian and the executive chef worked together to come up with Wise Choice meals which are low in sodium, low in calories, and heart healthy. As for sustainability, Kennesaw composts, reclaims rainwater, recycles, diverts more than 43,800 pounds of waste from landfills each month, and recycles cooking oil. And if you ever want to get off campus, visit Big Pie in the Sky Pizzeria, which is a student favorite and was featured on Man vs. Food for the infamous Carnivore Challenge.
#3 Columbia University, New York, N.Y.
New York is the city of dreams, and Columbia is making culinary dreams come true with menu options like eggplant roulettes, Thai chili wings, chipotle potato soup, and JJ’s Philly cheesesteak. Columbia is constantly proving to their students that the dining on campus is just as good as anything New York City has to offer. But if you really must dine elsewhere, Columbia’s dining plans let you use Flex Dollars at a host of restaurants and grocery stores in the city, including Chipotle, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Five Guys, and Whole Foods. And if that isn’t enough to impress, Columbia dining services have completely eliminated the use of trans fat in their cooking. Columbia also donates both food and money to City Harvest, and around 52 percent of all of the food purchased comes from vendors within 250 miles of campus. The registered dietitian on campus is available both online and in-person for one-on-one consultations with students. As for events, some of the most notable and exciting ones include Ice Cream and Sundaes, Sabor Latino, Food Day, National Nutrition Month, Peanut Butter and Jelly Bar, and The Food Expo. Clearly nutrition, sustainability, and community are at the forefront of Columbia’s mind.
#2 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Md.
Johns Hopkins’ dining services boast a hotel-quality brunch, food and wine pairings for seniors, themed “monotony breakers” each month, and cooking classes in on-campus residences that focus on healthy eating. There are also monthly faculty and staff dinners with students to promote community building as well as weekly chef demonstrations, tastings, and samplings in retail locations. Options served at the dining hall include manicotti puttanesca, house-smoked beef brisket sandwiches, Texas-style French toast, and oven-roasted meatloaf with honey carrots and steamed peas, so you will always be eating well at Johns Hopkins. Everything in the dining halls is made in small batches, from scratch, which not only gives students the freshest options available, but also reduces waste. Sustainability is very important on campus, which is why the dining service only uses compostable paper products and to-go packaging, and it composts all its food waste and organic materials. JHU also only purchases cage-free eggs, hormone-free milk, and locally grown produce. And if you are a student on campus craving a late night bite, C-stores on campus are open as late as 2 a.m.
#1 Bowdoin College, Brunswick, Maine
Bowdoin College has snagged the number one spot on this list for two years in a row, and it’s not hard to see why. Menu options include mussels in butter sauce, haddock with jalapeños, squash fettuccine, and roasted root vegetables with polenta, but the menu is just one part of the whole package at Bowdoin. The dining service team truly believes that the food served on campus is not just a quick way to satiate hunger, but rather a crucial part of a welcoming college experience. Bowdoin purchases ingredients locally as often as possible, the on-campus meat shop uses locally raised beef for all of the ground beef used on campus, and the bakeshop roasts its own pumpkins (grown right on campus in the garden) for the pumpkin pies. Bowdoin always encourages its students to live a healthy, fulfilled life, which is why some of the most popular recipes are featured on the dining services website for students to try at home; and if that isn’t enough for you, you can check out the iPhone app, too.