75 Best Colleges for Food for 2018 Ranking
75 Best Colleges for Food for 2018
We take food very seriously at The Daily Meal. As a result, we believe that in choosing your higher education, food is an important factor to consider. Every year since 2012, we’ve ranked the top colleges for food in America. (In case you missed it, here are our lists from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.) This year is no different, and schools are always looking to upgrade their dining options, so we’ve administered yet another survey in order to bring you the top 75 colleges for food in 2018.
#75 Carleton College (Northfield, Minnesota)
Just because Carleton College is small doesn’t mean you should underestimate its dining program. Boneless pork chops with roasted red potatoes, steamed cauliflower, caramelized red onions, and warm cinnamon apple sauce; eggplant parmesan with roasted red pepper polenta fries; and roasted butternut squash soup with wilted kale are just a few of the drool-worthy options on the menu at Carleton’s dining hall. Sayles Café now has all new late-night options this year, and the university has also rolled out a new station in East Dining and a grill-out tailgate party before Saturday games. The university’s Mug Club Program also exists to encourage university members to utilize reusable drinkware, just one of many ways they can help save the planet.
#74 Denison University (Granville, Ohio)
When Denison University was asked to supply a list of the things they’re doing to promote healthy eating on campus, they responded with a list of almost 100 regulations that are (and must be) followed to ensure properly balanced diets within their facilities — including controls for freshness, dietary restrictions, and nutritional breakdowns. This is an awful lot for a school that enrolls only 2,150 students. Rivaling this list was the rundown of programs and events featured by the school, including the Clean Plate Club, Farm to Fork, the Food Recovery Network, and “Dining Sustainability” fellowships. The school uses Greenies (eco-friendly and reusable to-go containers), offers local sodas (and the ability for students to make their own), and even issues fair trade and organic uniforms to dining services employees.
#73 University of Southern California (Los Angeles, California)
Even though this school is located smack dab in the middle of the food mecca that is Los Angeles, USC works hard to make sure that all of their 19,000 undergraduate students have an amazing variety of food within their reach on campus. There are nearly 40 dining venues, ranging from a popular on-campus bar and grill called Traditions to a fine-dining restaurant called Moreton Fig and a gastropub named The Lab. At USC’s three residential dining halls (where theme nights are held every month), menus are anchored by made-from-scratch stocks and sauces, and instead of the big “troughs” you’ll find at most cafeterias, small serving vessels allow employees to portion out smaller batches of freshly cooked food. USC’s chefs work closely with their full-time dietitian to make sure that recipes include lean meats, vegetables, and whole grains, and the school has implemented a program to ensure that local, sustainable, and organic foods are served at every dining hall daily, including some herbs and vegetables grown on campus. Vegan and vegetarian options are available at every dining hall, and weekly farmers markets are held on campus.
#72 Wheaton College (Wheaton, Illinois)
With menu options like balsamic roasted pork loin, vegetable and mushroom pot pie, and insanely creative pizzas, who wouldn’t want to eat at Wheaton College? And the menu isn’t the only thing setting this college apart from the rest. Wheaton’s dining services are dedicated to offering students the freshest, most sustainable options as often as possible. They roast bones to make soup and sauce stocks, roast the turkey and beef on site for deli meats, and make all baked goods daily and in small batches. More than 20 percent of the ingredients used in the dining halls are purchased from local vendors, and transparency is very important to Wheaton, which uses numerous visible grills and woks so students know exactly how their food is being prepared. For students with dietary restrictions, every station has a vegetarian option and a special “At Your Service” area is always manned by a chef willing to whip up gluten-free, vegan, and other special meals.
#71 Ohio University (Athens, Ohio)
This past summer, Ohio University spent $1.8 million on a renovation of Shively Court, one of its dining locations, which now has a Mexican street food concept that features tortillas made from scratch. Other changes in recent years include a renovation of the West 82 Food Court and the addition a create-your-own frozen açai and yogurt bowl station. This January, the university’s dining program will be taking part in a meal plan donation program in which students with a meal plan can donate their swipes to a meal food bank that will be redistributed to food-insecure students. Ohio University has also been dedicated to increasing local produce purchases, and the university composts 100 percent of all food waste. Ohio University is constantly updating facilities, having renovated every single one of its venues in the last 10 years.
#70 University of California, Santa Barbara (Santa Barbara, California)
The menu options at UC Santa Barbara have expanded to include more vegan and vegetarian options, a well as sustainable fish three times every week. The program teaches students about positive body image, staying healthy during times of stress, how to properly read food labels, how to shop healthier on a budget, and so much more. Every quarter, UCSB’s dining services has a Green Chef Competition to educate students on sustainability as well as to entertain. The dining services also make sure that their food reflects that sustainable mindset. Locally grown produce makes up 50 percent of the produce served in the dining halls — including the now Platinum LEED-certified Portola — and 25 percent of that is organically grown.
#69 University of California, Irvine (Irvine, California)
Located in the extremely safe city of Irvine, UC Irvine established the first zero-waste dining facility in the UC system back in 2010, which is massively impressive. At all three of the college’s dining halls, all solid organic waste is anaerobically digested and the resulting biogas helps fuel the Irvine Ranch Water District. As for the students, UC Irvine treats them well. The university often hosts popular local food trucks at campus festivals as well as events like Mediterranean Night and the Lunar Festival. Thirty-two percent of all food purchases for the school’s dining halls are sustainable, and food is sourced from more than 130 vendors within 250 miles of campus.
#68 Colby College (Waterville, Maine)
The menu options at Colby College are enough to make your mouth water. BLT pizza, jasmine rice and red beans, meatball flatbread sandwiches, and hash brown quiche are just a few of the selections, but we think you get the picture. Colby College also has a few iconic food destinations surrounding the campus, such as Big G’s Deli, where the sandwiches are bigger than your head. Just this year, they’ve started a performance bowls program and added a make-your-own crêpe station, taqueria station, and skewers program on campus, as well as a vegan desert bar. There’s also a new Sunday brunch available for students, provided in partnership with the Colby Museum of Art. And if all that isn’t enough to entice you, Colby College is serious when it comes to sustainability: They source their produce locally, send pre- and post-consumer waste to a composting facility, and donate produce from the student-run garden to local food pantries.
#67 Bryn Mawr College (Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania)
Bryn Mawr’s menu options are consistently amazing. Each semester there are dozens of themed dining events — like Milkshake Mania, complete with a make-your-own milkshake option, and the French Peasant’s Lunch, which features assorted cheeses, breads, and grapes. And those are just the options for special occasions. On a daily basis, students can get food such as chocolate chip pancakes, Tex-Mex egg rolls, white-bean-stuffed peppers, and baked flounder with braised mushrooms. Going to Bryn Mawr is sort of like eating at a fine-dining restaurant, and we wouldn’t mind enjoying a few dinners there.
#66 Temple University (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
It’s only fitting that the dining theme at Temple University in Philadelphia appears to be “freedom.” To start, the school offers a whopping 14 different meal plans for use at two all-you-care-to-eat locations, two large food courts, and 11 smaller retail venues. A dozen of these meal plans include “Diamond Dollars” that can also be used off campus. Want to eat exclusively kosher? There’s a campus Hillel center that serves food as well as “kosher to go” locations at three other venues. How about vegan or vegetarian? The school has that covered in numerous locations as well, and partners with Pure Fare just for this purpose. Gluten intolerant or have allergies? There’s a special area at each all-you-care-to-eat spot that is free from contamination. If you’re looking for fresh food, well, that includes just about everything on the menu. It appears the only thing Temple doesn’t have in its plans are “guest meals” for visitors, because students are free to use their meals on whomever they’d like.
#65 College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Maine)
The meat served at College of the Atlantic’s dining halls is humanely raised, and all the seafood is sustainably sourced, which is already enough to make us see hearts. But there’s so much more going on at COA that makes it truly stand out. The main Blair Dining Hall, known affectionately as “Take a Break” (or TAB), serves dishes like shrimp cakes with grilled portobello mushrooms, Thai red and green curry with beef and rice, roasted black bean and vegetable burritos, and COA Peggy Rockefeller Farms lamb or vegetable kebabs. And the delicious, healthy food doesn’t stop there. Students can find healthy vending machines in the Sea Urchin Café, which sells sandwiches, soups, cookies, yogurt, and fruit, and harvest dinners are held at their college-operated farms. In the past year, the school added 1,400 square feet of new greenhouse space at Beech Hill Farm and began construction on a poultry processing facility. COA previously pledged to make 20 percent of its food from organic, fair trade, and local sources by 2020 — a goal that has already been met and exceeded.
#64 Bob Jones University (Greenville, South Carolina)
Greenville is a great place to enjoy different cultures and cuisines, so Bob Jones University students benefit greatly from their location as well as a solid dining program. At Bob Jones University, a focus on local products and vendors for sourcing food as well as an on-campus vegetable and herb garden ensures fresh and local ingredients. The university is also looking to use composting in its gardening and growing vegetables such as onions, potatoes, celery, and more from scraps. There are also a great number of allergy-conscious and gluten-free options on campus, and multiple food-focused events every month such as Chew ‘n’ Chats, Huge Burger Bars, and Special Diet Dinners.
#63 Saint Lawrence University (Canton, New York)
Even though sustainability and health are important to Saint Lawrence, they also focus on exactly what it is the students want. With that in mind, they created the “Recipe From Home” program, which has been going strong since 1987. The program encourages students to share family recipes to be served in the dining halls. Themed events throughout the year, such as the Canadian Thanksgiving feast, are also a hit with students. Of course, Saint Lawrence realizes that every once in a while students just need something greasy and comforting, which is why the on-campus pub serves delicious fried snacks like mac and cheese bites and onion rings, and the dining halls’ huge “pub cookies” are student favorites.
#62 Tulane University (New Orleans, Louisiana)
New Orleans is one of the finest cities for food in America, and Tulane is located right in the heart of it. While students can venture off campus to eat if they want (the school’s “NOLA Bucks” can be used to purchase food at more than 20 local restaurants), Tulane’s 50 on-campus chefs and 25 dining locations provide everything they need, including meeting every kind of dietary restriction. All items are made from scratch, their late-night City Diner (open daily from 5 p.m. to 7 a.m.) serves a famous 16-inch Big City Pancake, and the school hosts several New Orleans staple theme nights such as Red Bean Mondays, Fried Chicken Wednesdays, and Gumbo Fridays — in addition to more than 100 other campus dining events each year.
In a hip and unique twist, Tulane has two popular on-campus food trucks: Ironsides, which specializes in waffle sandwiches, and the new Roulez, which is the country’s first all-meal-plan food truck. Other recent additions include the remodeling of Bruff Commons and the retail food court in the last year, and word on the street is that a new taco bar and Panera location are also in the works. As for sustainability and health, the produce is purchased from 20 local farms, leftover meals are composted, and Tulane Dining works closely with the Goldring Center for Culinary Medicine and the Health and Wellness Center (which offers “Wellness Wednesdays”) to educate students on portioning and proper nutrition.
#61 University of Washington (Seattle, Washington)
The University of Washington is in Seattle, which means students have access to some pretty amazing restaurants right at their doorstep (as well as a couple of the 50 best food halls in America for 2016). But they definitely don’t need to wander far for incredible food. The UW farm grows fresh produce right on campus and dining services sells what they harvest at the District Market. And that isn’t the only move UW is making toward sustainability — students are all encouraged to eat locally and limit waste. An extra bonus is the fact that there are 15 dining options on campus — including two popular food trucks — so delicious food is always close by.
#60 Tufts University (Medford, Massachusetts)
Students have plenty of choices at Tufts with menu options like fresh mozzarella ovalini, old-fashioned rolled oats, and a roast beef sandwich complete with smoky bistro sauce. On top of that, the efforts made toward sustainability are impressive at Tufts. The college’s motto is “Think Global, Buy Local,” and they certainly live up to it. The fall farmers market gives students a chance to purchase local and fresh produce right on campus. Tufts’ dining services also only serves 100 percent cage-free eggs and sustainable fish like wild Pacific salmon and farmed tilapia.
#59 Brigham Young University (Provo, Utah)
Less waste goes to landfills from BYU dining services than from just about any other school with a dining program of a comparable size. That’s a pretty great achievement, but it’s not all that sets Brigham Young apart. The Creamery on Ninth East (CONE) is a full-service grocery store on campus, the first of its kind in all of America. Even with all these achievements, BYU isn’t about to settle. Every Thursday, an on-campus farmers market sells the freshest produce to students, and dining services educates students on everything from nutrition to cooking tips in a newsletter called MIX.
#58 Roger Williams University (Bristol, Rhode Island)
Roger Williams’ dining services are committed to sustainable practices and healthy eating. The school participates in the Eat Local Challenge and Low Carbon Diet Day, and they also make all carryout containers compostable and use only cage-free eggs and humanely raised beef. But if you’re craving something a bit less health-conscious, the university is also home to the “Stonewall Stuffer,” a Thanksgiving-style wrap named after one of the campus dorms. The taste and quality of the food is also a priority, which is why menu items include vegetable- and egg-fried rice, chicken scallopini with lemon butter sauce, and penne with Italian sausage and marinara, as well as the student-favorite chicken fingers and mac and cheese. The university also has an annual lobster-steak dinner every April. Even with its traditions, however, the university continues to make changes, including a full restaurant-revamp of its Law School café, transforming it from a bistro-style menu to a taqueria.
#57 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (Chapel Hill, North Carolina)
More than 4.4 million meals are served every year to UNC Chapel Hill’s 18,350 undergraduate students, and menu development is a collaborative process that involves the school’s executive chef, residential chefs, general manager, food service directors, marketing team, and in-house registered dietitian. They’re constantly on the lookout for new ways to source food sustainably: Nearly 30 percent of all food served comes from within 250 miles of campus, and nearly 20 percent is AASHE-certified as ecologically sound, fair, and humane. They’ve also received the 2015 NACUFS Gold Award for their commitment to the environment and food waste reduction initiatives, which includes a reusable container program, tray-free dining, fryer oil recycling, and the donation of 200 pounds of leftovers to food banks weekly. There are at least 24 on-campus eateries and two main dining halls, at which you’ll find a regular schedule of special events and programming ranging from days highlighting ingredients like white pumpkin and kohlrabi to weekly tastings and samplings. All of their eateries have undergone renovations or upgrades within the past five years, and they’ve even partnered with several local ethnic restaurants to allow them to offer their food on campus. As for the food itself? It’s so good that student favorites have even made their way into a collegiate cookbook.
#56 University of Houston (Houston, Texas)
There are more than 30 dining locations on University of Houston’s campus, including Cougar Woods, a nut-free facility for students with severe allergies. And that’s not to mention the many off-campus options in the city of Houston. Dining services participate in Meatless Mondays to encourage healthy and sustainable eating among its students, and the college’s six-part interactive cooking series, “What’s Cooking, Coogs,” gives students a chance to learn more about how to cook well and eat well. Students also have access to some delicious food surrounding campus, including Texas favorites such as barbecue, Tex-Mex, and fried chicken.
#55 University of Alabama (Tuscaloosa, Alabama)
The most Instagrammable place in the state, the University of Alabama has Instagram-worthy food too. Nearly 70 percent of the menu items here are made from scratch, and the university also has a full-service bakery that bakes all bread items for each dining hall. Sustainability is also important, and the university composts all of its organic waste, which goes to an organic field, and reusable take out boxes are used as well. Plastic straws are currently being phased out thanks to the Sip Smarter campaign as well. Students are well-accommodated for their dietary needs, with UA having an Allergen Accommodation Room as well as a gluten-free station cleverly called Glutinus Minimus. Students have over 30 food options on campus, including multiple food trucks, and a taqueria concept was recently added as was an option for acai smoothie bowls, all included with student meal plans.
#54 Princeton University (Princeton, New Jersey)
It makes sense that Princeton University has made this list, seeing as Princeton itself made our list of best college towns in the country for food. The dining halls throw dozens of themed meals and events throughout the year, and the everyday menu is just as impressive as the special events spreads. Menu items include mushroom and spinach quesadillas, pesto pork chops, and panzanella salad, so Princeton is clearly out to impress. Princeton dining also offers a Lunch-to-Go program, which lets students order their lunches in bags and take them out of the dining hall. And all this is small stuff compared to the Visiting Chefs Program, which features a recreation of a chef’s restaurant menu, served buffet-style.
#53 Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Georgia)
The culinary program at Georgia Tech is centered around local and sustainable food, and nearly every single item served there is made fresh daily — from the pizza sauce to the pastries to the salad dressings. Additionally, every step of their culinary process is sustainable. Only cage-free eggs, sustainable seafood, and grass-fed Angus beef are served, and there’s even a full-time sustainability coordinator on staff. Don’t expect to find any “dining halls” at this Atlanta school, however; they were reimagined from the top down in the spring of 2015 and are now called community restaurants. Classic American, Mediterranean, Southeast Asian, and Latin cuisine can be found at the community restaurants, or you can go just a bit off campus to eat at restaurants like Atlanta classic The Varsity or Lucky Buddha.
#52 University of Arizona (Tucson, Arizona)
Tony the Marine/Wikimedia Commons
Tuscon was the first American city to be named an UNESCO World City of Gastronomy, so students of the University of Arizona are already in the right place if they’re looking for something good to eat. The university has a pretty great dining program within its own campus too, however, sourcing all its food items from the production kitchen at the Arizona Student Unions, ensuring that all of its food is wholesome and seasonally-driven as well made from scratch. Students are guaranteed access to a balanced meal, as the University of Arizona is one of 21 universities to have successfully completed the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Healthier Campus Initiative. The production kitchen is also dedicated to sustainability, and on campus, you’ll find many initiatives such as cloth napkins and china or ceramic dining ware. There are actually no dining halls here, as the University of Arizona is an all-retail campus with 36 independent restaurant locations.
#51 Muhlenberg College (Allentown, Pennsylvania)
Named the No. 3 Best College Food in Pennsylvania for 2019 by Niche, Muhlenberg College has also made the top 20 campus food lists by the Princeton Review for 2016, 2017, and 2018, as well as other accolades. It’s not hard to see why. Vegetables and meat come from local farms and are turned into nutritionally balanced meals in a wide variety of cuisines from Cajun to Indian. Sustainability is emphasized as well, particularly this year, when the school has introduced paper straws throughout campus, as well as Mason jars with which students can receive drink discounts, and compostable products in the school’s catering department. Students can easily use their meal plans all around campus and will find vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free options at every meal. Muhlenberg even has a kosher program that is overseen by two mashgichim. (A mashgiach is a supervisor who ensures that the food follows Jewish dietary laws.) Even with all this, the school doesn’t forget about the fun element and features multiple food-focused events every month, with new events this year including Black History Month, a monthly meat carving, and the reintroduction of their food truck.
#50 Pennsylvania State University (University Park, Pennsylvania)
Penn State’s dining program partners with the university’s student farm and other local suppliers and vendors in its attempts to use all local and regional products in its dining and retail locations. There are two student sustainability coordinators on staff whose job it is to organize and educate students in regards to the university’s sustainability initiatives, which include offering reusable containers and a coffee discount program that encourages the use of reusable cups. Students are well accommodated, with meatless and vegan options available for every meal, and the university also switched to halal-certified chicken last year in efforts to create more options for its significant Muslim student population. Other recent additions include a Kosher and allergen-free concept among the dining options, as well as a new coffee shop and more frequent pop-up food options. Penn State has also begun to utilize social media more by posting polls for students to choose menu items for the upcoming week, as well as contests for student food creations.
#49 University of Kansas (Lawrence, Kansas)
Located in the Brooklyn of the state, the University of Kansas is home to a lively student population that appreciates some good food and drink, something they make sure to cater well to. All campus retail locations use compostable materials, and the university makes sure to only source from manufacturers that have the same values as they do in regards to sustainability. Keeping things fresh and local is of the utmost importance, and students have access to all of that goodness, as every meal plan works at all 21 dining locations on campus as well as some off-campus. The university’s dining options also include an all-vegan concept, a kosher kitchen, and a concept with a menu free of the top eight food allergens.
#48 Wesleyan University (Middletown, Connecticut)
Wesleyan’s vegan food service program goes above and beyond, having been previously rewarded by PETA itself. Other menu options cover all dietary restrictions, needs and desires, with dishes such as tandoor chicken with basmati rice and stewed chickpeas or an apple dessert pizza topped with sweetened cream making appearances on the menu. Themed holiday dinners and a bi-weekly chef’s table where students and others can gather to discuss goals for the dining program characterize the passion Wesleyan has for its food, and the chef’s table itself serves fresh ingredients for sampling and even offers a cooking course in which students can learn about sustainable culinary practices.
#47 University of Chicago (Chicago, Illinois)
The University of Chicago isn’t content to let its dining program stay the same, so it has a “mystery diner” program, which allows students, faculty, and professors to give feedback. The Campus Advisory Board also convenes twice a semester to discuss issues and figure out what is working and what needs improvement. While it constantly seeks to improve, the University of Chicago’s dining service is already pretty impressive. There are three residential dining halls, 10 cafés, and two markets, both of which are open until 3 a.m. for all the night owls on campus. Menu options range from ancho chipotle chicken stew to fried pollock in Creole sauce. The University of Chicago has it all when it comes to dining.
#46 Purdue University (West Lafayette, Indiana)
The dining services at Purdue have partnered with the student-run farm, which provides local produce like fresh herbs and tomatoes. On top of that, each student is given a reusable to-go cup at the beginning of the year and using it gives him or her discounts at dining locations around campus. Clearly, Purdue takes a great interest in supporting sustainability, but it also recognizes that fun is an important part of any dining experience, which is why it holds cooking demonstrations and themed meals to break the monotony of college life. But with dishes like Cajun-seasoned chicken breast and bacon corn chowder soup, we think that Purdue dining is anything but monotonous. On top of all that, you can find Harry’s Chocolate Shop (a student favorite) and Triple XXX restaurant (which was featured on “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives”) right near campus.
#45 Florida State University (Tallahassee, Florida)
Florida State University’s dining program — known as Seminole Dining — has 11 executive chefs totally focused on fresh and healthy local products being used in their recipes, and three local farms have been adopted by the school for the purposes of sourcing ingredients. A full-time sustainability coordinator is on staff to ensure that sustainability practices are followed, and students have access to 20 on-campus retail locations in addition to their regular dining halls where they can use their meal plan. The school’s largest dining hall, the Suwannee Room, was recently remodeled, reopening this past July with a $8.4 million makeover that resulted in an open-kitchen layout so that students can see just what is going into their food.
#44 Rhode Island School of Design (Providence, Rhode Island)
At the prestigious RISD, just as much care is given to the dining program as to the curriculum, as creative minds need a way to fuel their creativity. Run by the school instead of an outside company, RISD’s dining services offer four main venues as well as a bakery, and all recipes use local, seasonal, and fresh ingredients. There’s a nutritional education program called Eat + Learn that brings together the entire Providence community to celebrate local food, as well as an annual event called Eat the World where international students play a role in developing a menu of global dishes. Over the past couple of years, RISD has added online ordering, as well as the ability to use Dining Points at vending machines. To combat food insecurity, it has also instituted the Swipe It Forward program. Also now available on campus is a make-your-own smoothie station, customizable pizzas, and organic and customizable grain bowls. Every Monday is Meatless Monday, and their annual 100-Mile Dinner uses only ingredients sourced within 100 miles of campus. The school takes sustainability very seriously; initiatives include recycling and composting, serving only humanely raised beef and all-natural chicken, and exclusively using Energy Star equipment and biodegradable cleaning solution. They also don’t sell any bottled water, have removed trays from dining venues, and recycle their frying oil with Newport Biodiesel. RISD’s largest dining venue, The Met, has recently undergone a thorough renovation, and their student-operated coffee house, Carr House, offers organic coffee, cupcakes, calzones, and other locally sourced treats.
#43 Rollins College (Winter Park, Florida)
At Rollins College, students’ health is the name of the dining game. The college educates students about eating and living healthily with opportunities to meet a dietitian, cooking classes with the executive chef, and a mindful eating program. Students also educate the program on what it is they want, which recently led to their beer and wine bar — typically only open at night — being used as a juice and smoothie bar during the day. Rollins College also exclusively purchases ingredients from certified vendors with sustainable distribution practices. Menu options at Rollins include diver scallops, ginger tofu stir-fry, shrimp Portofino, and chipotle chicken Veracruz. With five dining halls on campus, a café serving Starbucks coffee, and pub-style restaurant called Dave’s Boathouse that opened a couple years back, it isn’t hard to find what you want to eat when on campus.
#42 Colorado State University (Fort Collins, Colorado)
The first STARS Platinum Rated University for sustainability, Colorado State University continues to strive to become a near zero-waste university. CSU also puts an enormous focus on providing fresh ingredients for its students, which is why they make menu items from scratch every day and often right in front of students — for instance, at the sizzling salad station, omelet and pancake bars, sushi bar, Mongolian grill and stir-fry, barbecue smoker station, and bakery (which includes gluten-free items baked in a separate facility). The EatWell program (which also labels foods for dietary and allergy purposes) and on-campus dietitian emphasize the importance of healthy choices, and a nutrition kiosk is located at every dining facility. Meal plans for the five all-you-care-to-eat locations also include “RamCash” that can be used at more than 17 restaurants, coffee shops, and even the RamSkeller Pub, which offers live entertainment, pub food, and plenty of beer for students 21 and over. In addition to the sustainability efforts showcased by numerous LEED-certified buildings, CSU also donates leftover food, performs composting on campus, holds several zero-waste food events, and recently received a sustainability award from the National Association of College and University Food Services.
#41 University of California, Berkeley (Berkeley, California)
If you’re a student at Berkeley, expect to have access to some of the best food around campus, as the Bay Area has some of the best food and drink in the state of California. But don’t worry — the food served on campus is likely to be as good as anything you can get at a restaurant, with options like blackened fried catfish, red pepper and spinach pizza, and jerk chicken sandwiches. And you can rest assured that administrators at UC Berkeley are just as dedicated to environmental stewardship as they are to their students’ taste buds. The school is completely committed to the farm-to-table initiative Chews to Reuse (a reusable to-go container project) and to environmentally responsible purchasing practices.
#40 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Dining at MIT is all about health and flavor, which is why the menu features items like squash ratatouille with quinoa, eggplant stuffed with herbed tofu, fish tacos with chipotle sauce, lime coleslaw and black beans over rice, and truffled roast beef with buttered leeks. This past summer, the dining program redesigned a majority of its food locations, which greatly reflect the school’s diverse population with options like a traveling sushi chef, Korean barbecue, and even a tandoor oven that serves fresh naan daily. The Farm-to-Fork program is one of the reasons the food is so fresh and delicious, and dining services have dedicated themselves to offering whole-grain options, encouraging protein consumption, and reducing sodium. Healthy cooking classes are now available, and students can learn how to prepare meals on a budget. Professional nutrition counseling is also available for students who want advice on portion control and general healthy eating. And if that weren’t enough, the kitchens, cafés, and loading docks all offer online virtual tours so students can keep an eye on what’s going on behind the scenes.
#39 University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)
Being situated in Philadelphia definitely doesn’t hurt the University of Pennsylvania’s dining options. This school has one of the highest overall Yelp ratings of all colleges considered, but UPenn doesn’t stop there. Buffalo hot wings; vegan chili made with local squash, onion, peppers, tomatoes, cumin, and cilantro; gnocchi with roasted vegetables; and roast beef with rosemary gravy, horseradish mashed potatoes, and honey-glazed carrots are just a few of the meals you can get on campus. Tapingo, a mobile ordering system, has increased convenience for students, and the university has also expanded its halal program at English House, as well as introduced Jain entrées at three of its dining locations. Hill House underwent an $85 million renovation for last year, and now has a state-of-the-art kitchen as well as a production kitchen. One of the ways that UPenn ensures that their food is delicious is by sourcing locally and following a farm-to-fork philosophy. Students can also participate in sustainability efforts with the Green2Go program, which reduces waste by using reusable to-go containers, or take on the Low-Carbon Diet Day and the Eat Local Challenge.
#38 Miami University (Oxford, Ohio)
Miami University boasts multiple conveniently located dining locations all around campus, including two 24/7 locations, a ‘50s-style diner in the student union, and a convenience store selling snacks and standard groceries. And if you’re eating on campus, you can always find out what nutrients your meal contains. The online menu allows students to view nutrition information, and Miami U. constantly updates its social media sites with tips on healthy living and weight management, helpful nutrition resources, or just fun facts to brighten the students’ days. Speaking of brightening days, the dining services also throws fun events for the whole student body, including themed meals like Cultivating Community and an annual Farm-to-Fork dinner held on site at a local farm. All meals are made in-house using fresh ingredients, nearly 25 percent of all ingredients are from local growers and companies, and in response to a student survey, the entire menu was redesigned a couple years ago. Even better, all campus dining operations have recently or are currently being remodeled.
#37 Stanford University (Stanford, California)
Stanford aims to make the dining experience as educational, sustainable, and communal as possible. The college hires students to act as dining ambassadors, which means they work with the community both on campus and in surrounding areas to promote wellness, sustainability, and healthy eating. Students and community members get exposure to organic gardens and an educational farm, and the farm stand on campus sells seasonal produce. But that’s not all that’s incredible at Stanford. Menu items include cabbage and jicama salad with bacon-cilantro dressing and rotisserie chicken with mango mole sauce. The food at all dining hall kitchens is prepared fresh and in small batches, and they’ve implemented a program that reduced the amount of animal protein served by 20 percent. Stanford is so dedicated to healthy eating and living, in fact, that you can even take a life-changing course with them on the subject online — for free.
#36 Pitzer College (Claremont, California)
Pitzer College’s dining program utilizes reusable to-go containers to reduce waste, purchases from local vendors, and develops menus to focus on seasonal items that can be purchased locally — clearly, the dining service is dedicated to environmental stewardship. The college also participates in Low-Carbon Diet Day and the Eat Local Challenge to educate students on everything having to do with sustainability. Students are happy to eat here with menu options like heirloom tomato salad, chicken Marsala, barbecue baby back ribs, and grilled polenta in a white bean and tomato ragù.
Students also have the opportunity to participate in exciting theme nights, like Mediterranean Monday, Taco Tuesday, Wonderful Wednesdays, Surf & Turf Thursday, Thai Friday, Snackaway Saturday, and Super Sunday. Those looking to get off campus can use their dining plans at any of the Claremont Colleges or use Flex dollars at various locations around the school. The menu varies daily, and chefs are encouraged to experiment and showcase the cuisines they grew up enjoying.
#35 Harvard University (Cambridge, Massachusetts)
Even though all of Boston is just a T ride away, there’s no need to go off campus for amazing food at Harvard. The dining events on campus include Top Chef Harvard, Brain Breaks during finals, and monthly barbecues, so you’ll never be bored or hungry. And if you’re interested in studying food as part of your academic career, then you can take Harvard’s courses in food writing and food history, or just read the Food Literacy Project Newsletter, which highlights food events both on and off campus, cooking classes, and local food job listings. And even though Harvard caters to approximately 21,000 students, the 13 dining halls and 14 retail locations do a pretty good job meeting individual needs. They switched to a gluten-free roux in soups, boast a kosher kitchen, and offer plenty of vegetarian and vegan options. On the sustainability front, all of Harvard’s dining halls are either two- or three-star Green Restaurant Certified and donate leftover food to Food for Free. Still, the school knows that constructive criticism is the key to really pleasing their students, which is why you can always take any questions, concerns, or complaints directly to the dining staff.
#34 Yale University (New Haven, Connecticut)
Yale is already recognized as one of the best colleges academically, but their dining services belong at the Ivy League level as well. You’ll find roasted pork chops, beer-battered fish and chips, and vegan ravioli on the menu — and if you’re not feeling those options, than you can attend one of the countless events on campus. Yale’s dining services throw everything from themed meals to a Welcome Back Dinner to the Uncommon Produce Market. And if you’re interested in learning more about mixology, etiquette, and wine pairings, then check out the school’s dining series, “Reality Bites.”
Students always have access to the most up-to-date information about what’s going on with dining services through the mobile app, website, and the D.I.S.H, a dining newsletter. But don’t think that the dining services are just having fun, as they are seriously committed to sustainability as well. Their Sustainable Food Project, which was created by Alice Waters and her daughter, Fanny (a Yale alumna), manages two on-campus farms, and students can take part in initiatives such as Local 2 Yale and Erase the Waste. It’s no wonder so many people want to go to Yale.
#33 University of South Carolina (Columbia, South Carolina)
Nine executive chefs are at the helm of the University of South Carolina’s dining program, which is made up of three “all-you-care-to-eat” dining halls and many more on-campus retail locations, many of which have been added over the past year. Student convenience has improved with the introduction of the Tapingo mobile ordering app and a new register system that speeds up service and notifies guests via text message when their order is ready. A late-night eatery called the Community Table offers students a later option, and the Top of Carolina, which is home to the school’s Friday Southern cookout, Sunday brunch, and Sustainable Sunset Dinners, offers stunning views and also happens to be the only revolving restaurant in South Carolina. Every Friday, students can indulge in Southern Food Fridays, where they’ll find dishes including fried chicken, barbecue, mashed potatoes and gravy, mac and cheese, and collard greens; traditional South Carolina fare like Lowcountry boils, pimento cheese, and shrimp and grits with andouille are always available.
The same amount of care that goes into serving insanely delicious food also goes into sustainability and health initiatives. Waste-reduction efforts include recycling programs and reusable containers, and no equipment is left on when it’s not in use. They’ve set a goal of purchasing 20 percent of all food from local producers by 2020, and every Tuesday, a farmers market is held in the heart of campus. Additionally, the “Global Chef Program” brings a new international chef to the Global Café for a semester-long residency, and all over campus certain foods are marked as “mindful” when they contain acceptable amounts of calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, and fiber. For students with food sensitivities, the Honeycomb Café offers “simple serving” meals that account for 90 percent of common allergies.
#32 University of California, San Diego (San Diego, California)
The area surrounding UCSD is rich with killer restaurants and bars, but you definitely don’t need to venture off campus to get some delicious meals. The chefs at UCSD are professionally trained by award-winning culinary schools, and the dining services have won a slew of awards for food quality and taste. Embracing the Mexican heritage of the area, UCSD has an on-campus food truck called Torero Tu Go, which serves savory dishes like chicken skewers and skirt steak tacos. And if that wasn’t enough, dining services throws all kinds of events for students, including themed food fairs (like the Black History Luncheon, Dia de los Muertos, Mardi Gras, and May the Fourth Be With You) and the annual Chocolate Festival, complete with chocolate fountains and delicious dippers. But don’t worry, UCSD hasn’t forgotten about sustainability. The school’s Eco Tours for students and members of the community highlight the LEED-rated buildings on campus, solar water heating, hydration stations, and water-efficient landscaping, among other things, and are meant to educate students about the importance of living sustainably. A new dining facility called Ocean View Terrace opened a couple years ago, boasting three new 24/7 restaurants: gourmet pizza, a kosher and halal option, and a bakery.
#31 Emory University (Atlanta, Georgia)
The extensive list of events held at Emory — including Melon Mania, the Heirloom Tomato Festival, and a Mardi Gras celebration — had us at hello, but there’s so much more going on. The kitchen serves truly impressive dishes, like a grilled vegetable and balsamic panini, but it seems that the well-stocked salad bar is the healthy student favorite, which cannot be said for most colleges. Although Emory is dedicated to promoting health with their Healthy Eating Partners Program, they also realize that every once in a while, simple comfort foods are all that diners need. That’s why students have access to national chains like Chick-fil-A and Starbucks right on campus. The student-run advisory committee runs the show at the dining halls, going through complaints and making sure that everything is suited to the students’ needs.
#30 Brown University (Providence, Rhode Island)
Brown doesn’t take sustainability lightly. The dining service partners with local farms to ensure that students get the freshest and most environmentally sound ingredients possible. The college also uses reusable to-go containers and encourages students to compost their waste. During the fall, there’s a weekly farmers market where students can go to find fresh produce. There are 11 eateries on campus, and menu items include anything from vegan paella to cheese tortellini to Italian meatballs. Just last spring, returning students were surprised with a renovated Sharpe Refectory, which was given interior renovations that increased efficiency and improved the aesthetic of the dining hall.
Brown also makes sure that each and every student gets exactly what he or she wants, as vegan and vegetarian options are offered at every location on campus. All meals are produced from scratch by their 30-person culinary team, all beef is from Niman Ranch and prepped at their in-house butcher shop, all breads and pastries are produced at an on-campus bakeshop, and a farmers market is held weekly during the growing season. Thirty-five percent of Brown’s food is sourced locally, including 97 percent of their seafood, and all coffee served is fair trade.
#29 University of Connecticut (Storrs, Connecticut)
One of the largest self-operated dining programs in the country, the University of Connecticut participates in numerous sustainability initiatives such as U-Recycle, Slow Food at UConn, and the Earth Day Spring Fling, and they compost in all eight of the dining units. Dining Services also runs a Farm Fresh Market where most of the food is sourced locally from the two student-run gardens, and the UConn Dairy Bar makes its own ice cream using milk from UConn cows. UConn is also now an official Certified Bee Campus and is a member of Menus of Change University Research Collaborative, a group of leading scholars, business leaders in the foodservice industry, and executive chefs who are working to push Americans toward healthier and more sustainable diets.
Additionally, UConn Dining Services is the largest purchaser of Connecticut-grown foods in the whole state. And even though UConn is a big school, they don’t shirk their responsibility to provide an incredible dining experience to their students. Huge themed feasts include the Scooby Doo Halloween dinner, a New England clambake, weekly chef events, and an annual pop-up dinner. The dining services’ YouTube channel also offers cooking demos for students interested in learning more about food and how to prepare it on their own.
#28 University of California, Los Angeles (Los Angeles, California)
UCLA takes the health of its students very seriously. The Student Nutrition Awareness Campaign (SNAC) and the Here’s to Health initiative both provide students with information about healthy living and eating. And if students still have questions, they can speak with the registered dietitian on campus, who is always happy to tend to any concerns. UCLA is also committed to sustainability and previously received an award from PETA for being the most vegan-friendly campus.
Mouthwatering offerings on campus include seafood pizza, chicken and dumplings, and chicken chile verde, and an in-house bakery provides almost all breads and baked goods. Their boutique restaurant, Rendezvous, is a Certified Green Restaurant, and they are members of the Healthy Campus Initiative, Menus of Change, and the Global Food Initiative. And if you’re going to stroll off campus for a meal, then wander into Westwood Village to Fat Sal’s Deli, known for its monstrous and creative offerings; Diddy Riese, which serves customizable ice cream sandwiches; or Stan’s Donuts, one of the best doughnut shops in America.
#27 University of Georgia (Athens, Georgia)
The food services at the University of Georgia have teamed up with Georgia Grown, a local-minded brand that focuses on providing the freshest and most sustainable options available. On top of that, 100 percent of the food waste that comes from the dining halls is broken down and sent to a bioconversion center. We’d say that all that is impressive enough, but the University of Georgia doesn’t stop there. Themed events on campus include holiday-centered fun like Valentine’s Cupcake Decorating and larger events meant to educate students on different cuisines. And if you’re feeling hunger pangs late at night, Snelling Dining Commons is open 24 hours — a visit here is a popular tradition known as “Late-Night Snelling” or “Snellebrating.” Improvements are also definitely coming to the University of Georgia campus; the new Bolton Dining Commons has interactive cooking platforms and options like breakfast all day, regional and international cuisine, and hand-spun milkshakes. If that’s not enough, the surrounding city of Athens is known for its burgers, beer, and brunch.
#26 James Madison University (Harrisonburg, Virginia)
James Madison University definitely knows the importance of fun, which is why they throw events like Madipalooza, an outdoor spring festival; farm-to-fork dinners; and farmers markets held four times throughout the fall. And even though the food in the dining halls is delicious, students also have access to multiple national chains like Quiznos, Starbucks, and Red Mango right on campus. As far as sustainability goes, JMU is making huge strides toward becoming as environmentally sound as possible, with more than 2,500 tons composted since 2010. JMU is aware of the importance of connecting to the local community, which is why the dining services partnered with Food Donation Connection’s Harvest Program to donate more than 12,000 pounds of food to those in need. And if those numbers weren’t enough to dazzle you, just know that approximately 20 percent of all dining services’ purchases are local.
#25 Vanderbilt University (Nashville, Tennessee)
Vanderbilt gives its students an opportunity to experience and take part in the Taste of Nashville, during which they can eat at participating restaurants in one of the country’s best cities for food for a meal swipe. But students don’t even need to go off campus for a meal with menu options like chile-rubbed tilapia with asparagus, grilled mustard chicken with polenta, red lentils with kale and miso, braised short ribs with collard greens and candied sweet potatoes, chicken-fried steak with white gravy and green peas, and roasted salmon with sweet chipotle glaze. And luckily, Vanderbilt knows that college students are under a lot of stress and almost always ravenous, which is why four of the dining locations on campus are open 24 hours a day, including the central dining hall. And if that’s not enough to tickle your fancy, the school has a Dining Advisory Committee, which is a group of students, university staff, and dining staff dedicated to addressing every aspect of the dining program in order to improve sustainability efforts.
#24 Cornell University (Ithaca, New York)
The dining services at Cornell University have increased the amount of locally and regionally grown and produced ingredients to comprise 22 percent of all food purchased, and the dining halls have implemented tray-less dining to prevent further waste. No matter what your dietary preference, you can find it at Cornell, which has options for vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, kosher, halal, and Seventh Day Adventist diners. They’ve also turned Risley Dining Room into their gluten-free, peanut-free, and tree-nut-free dining hall and are focusing on a Clean Ingredients mission this year.
All that is pretty impressive, but not nearly as impressive as the events that are held throughout the year, such as Nutritionland, Peanut Butter Month, A Night at Hogwarts, Baseball Night, and Chinese New Year, to name just a few. On top of that, their chefs regularly medal at the National Association of College and University Food Services’ annual chef competition. Probably one of the coolest things on campus is the Cornell Dairy Bar, which serves milk, yogurt, pudding, and cheese all made from Cornell’s own dairy-processing plant. But on the healthier side, the university’s “plant-powered dinners” initiative has been part of an effort to educate students on healthier ways to eat. To make sure that students are satisfied and all their needs are met, they’ve also added a new online ordering tool so that students can get quick customer service and order food and pay for it online so they don’t have to wait in line.
#23 Boston University (Boston, Massachusetts)
One of the coolest things about Boston University is the fact that they have an on-campus bar/restaurant for all their 21-plus students known as the BU Pub — and, of course, it’s a student favorite. But delicious food is still available to all the younger students with menu options like barbecue chicken and caramelized onion pizza, stuffed shells, Rhode Island-style clam fritters, and polenta with broccoli rabe. You can find all that delicious food and more at BU’s main dining facility, which features two massive levels and has the capacity to hold 900 people. Special events include Oktoberfest and Lobster Night, and you can learn about any upcoming happenings through the dining services’ hilarious YouTube channel. BU also tries to take as much care of the planet as it does its students through initiatives like tray-less dining, following Seafood Watch guidelines, and composting.
#22 Occidental College (Los Angeles, California)
The dining services at Occidental work with a student-led cooking and gardening course to educate students on good composting practices as well as proper food handling, and it’s really paid off. The college now offers humane grilled chicken breasts and organic bread, as well as organic and local sandwiches, fruit, and stew. Some of the events on campus include Food Justice Month, Public Health Week, and Earth Week, and on top of that, there are a huge array of themed meals that work in tandem with student-run organizations and clubs. Since spring of this year, Occidental has brought different food trucks to campus every Thursday as a lunch option. Let’s not forget about the Chef’s Showcase, where on-campus chefs prepare their personal favorites, or Oxy Iron Chef, an in-house student culinary face-off. Clearly Occidental’s mission is to focus on community building and community learning, which we think is a noble goal. Meals have included balsamic-glazed chicken, butternut squash risotto, and braised beef ribs, and if you’re not satisfied with that, you can custom order exactly what it is you want and get it. Everything in the Occidental dining locations is made entirely from scratch in small batches.
#21 George Mason University (Fairfax, Virginia)
Sustainability and good nutrition are core values of George Mason University’s dining program. Chefs and registered dietitians have created meals in compliance with their Mindful program — transparent ingredients and satisfying portions of good food — in 70 percent of the university’s dining halls to ensure that students have access to a healthy and balanced diet. In order to achieve sustainability, Mason Dining has emphasized composting and recycling, as well as made sure to have strawless dining halls, vegan and vegetarian options, an on-campus greenhouse, and local farmers market events. Other food-focused events include healthy eating cooking demonstrations, farm-to-table dinners, and a vegan Iron Chef competition. Being the most diverse large public university in the country, George Mason also has a diversity of food offerings on campus to reflect that with cuisine from around the world.
#20 University of Virginia (Charlottesville, Virginia)
Charlottesville is an under-the-radar food town that UVA students definitely get to take full advantage of on and off campus. Their diverse student population is well-accommodated with plenty of options for those with dietary restrictions of many kinds, and the university has a Voice of the Consumer program in which students can give their input and requests as to what they want and need on their menu. With a chain of custody certification from the Marine Steward Council, UVA aims to have 100 percent sustainable seafood this year, and there is even a Sustainability Coordinator and Green Dining Ambassador Team on campus dedicated to educating students on sustainability initiatives. Students can use their meal plans to eat at over 30 locations on campus, with meal swipes being redeemable at three dining halls and 17 retail locations.
#19 Michigan State University (East Lansing, Michigan)
Partnering with their very own Department of Animal Science Swine Teaching and Research Center, Michigan State University’s dining program has their very own pork on their menu, and their beef is often sourced through the university’s Student Organic Farm. The university has a Farm to MSU program that lets guests eat local, and the local and regional farmers who participate in the program use sustainable practices in keeping with the university’s values. More than 150 local and 300 regional vendors provide MSU’s dining services with food and ingredients, and some of the university’s own chefs are gardeners themselves. The Student Organic Farm assists in composting and reusing waste for energy as well. Last year, MSU’s allergy program was recognized by AllerTrain as the Best Overall Food Allergy Program, and the university has two nut-conscious dining halls as well as six dining locations that are strictly for vegan and vegetarian options.
#18 University of San Diego (San Diego, California)
If you’re going to the University of San Diego, plan on attending some truly amazing food events throughout the year, such as the Applefest in the fall and the Strawberry Fest in the spring. You can also participate in the school’s annual student cooking competition, for which the winning prize is a feature in the dining halls. On the sustainability front, the school uses a bio-digester to reduce waste and turn it into energy. It’s currently partnering with an engineering alum and an on-campus group to provide students with a solar-powered food cart that they can use for fundraising, projects, and more. Ninety percent of meals are made from scratch and never frozen.
This year, a new mobile food ordering platform has made it convenient for students to order and pay ahead so that they can skip the lines, just picking up their food and going. As for late-night dining, you’re covered with the campus food truck, or you could go to any of the 17 off-campus locations that accept University of SD Campus Cash. Your campus ID card can also activate RFID technology in the new serve-yourself cold brew tap wall at the campus coffeehouse, Aromas, so you no longer need to wait in line to wake yourself up! Barbecue lovers will also be happy; a new custom-built barbecue called Embers is also available and can be transported by students where they need it.
#17 Duquesne University (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Located in Downtown Pittsburgh, Duquesne is home to nearly 10,000 well-fed students. Soups and sauces are made fresh daily, and even the pizza dough and fries are made from scratch. Thanks to an initiative called FarmSource, 20 percent of the food served on campus is sourced from 250 growers and food producers situated within a 150-mile radius of the school, and the amount of composted food has doubled in the past four years. Each of Duquesne’s 11 dining locations highlights seasonal offerings and features rotating menus based on what’s freshly available, and at least three or four food-focused events are held per week. The Hogan Dining Center (Duquesne’s main dining hall) was completely renovated five years ago and four additional locations received updates or complete overhauls since then, as well as the addition of new ice cream sundae and salad stations.
This past summer, the university expanded its allergy and dietary restriction accommodation program, which allows students, faculty, or staff to meet with members of the programs about food-related concerns and even use the GroupMe app to communicate daily food preferences. Students also now have a Chobani Creation Bar at The Incline as well as Rockwell Market. Pop-ups are now quite frequent as well; they take place late at night near residence halls and are communicated to students through social media. Further adding to this healthy-unhealthy dichotomy, Hogan doubled the number of vegetarian and vegan options, while Late Night Cookies began offering baked goods between 8 p.m. and 2 a.m. every night. The Red Ring Bar and Grille, located right on campus, is a popular spot for happy hour and pre-game meals. As an added bonus, The Red Ring as well as Hogan Dining Center are Gold Certified by Sustainable Pittsburgh.
#16 Bowdoin College (Brunswick, Maine)
Dining services at Bowdoin are dedicated to the idea that the food on campus should provide not just a quick meal to satiate the hungry, but rather an overall 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, seafood is from certified local fishmongers, their organic garden recently doubled in size, and the bakeshop roasts its own pumpkins grown right in the campus garden for pumpkin pies.
The dining service at Bowdoin celebrates the rich cultural diversity of the school’s students through food, serving individual regional and international menu items alongside images and information that enhance the student experience as well as educate them. They have also made all their meat halal, which serves the needs of their Muslim student population, and added a second dietitian on staff. They’ve also recently completely upgraded kitchen equipment to be more energy- and resource-efficient, and food waste is composted and/or turned into pig feed. Bowdoin always encourages students to live a healthy, fulfilled life, which is why the most popular recipes are featured on the dining services website for students to try at home; the dining program even has its own mobile app. Brunswick’s vibrant Maine Street, which boasts a wide variety of restaurants, food trucks, and a popular gelato shop, leads right to the college’s front door.
#15 University of Rochester (Rochester, New York)
The University of Rochester’s dining program makes efforts to be as sustainable, delicious, and fun as possible. They’ve also recently renovated their Douglass Dining Center, which now has more of a focus on specialty diets and being allergy-friendly as well. Team Green is the team of student interns employed by the dining services whose sole purpose is to promote sustainability while dining — and on top of that, more than 62 percent of all the ingredients served on campus are grown, raised, or wholly manufactured within New York state.
The school has also been named among the most vegan-friendly universities by PETA2 for four years running. Campus events include Meatless Mondays, D’Lions Dinner, the Chef Challenge, and the ever-popular Local Foods Week. But if you ever go to the University of Rochester, you have to get the local specialty: a garbage plate. It may sound odd, but we assure you that it’s delicious. You get two sides — choose from macaroni salad, baked beans, home fries, or french fries — and then choose either two burgers or two hot dogs (or other protein options). Now imagine all of that piled together with meaty hot sauce, onions, and mustard, and you have a garbage plate. Students go crazy for it. A new burrito bowl station in their retail food court is also a huge hit.
#14 Wellesley College (Wellesley, Massachusetts)
When it comes to waste reduction, Wellesley is truly dedicated. They uphold a promise that for every pound of waste that students save, the college will purchase that same amount of dry goods to go to a local charity, Community Servings. If you have dietary restrictions, this is also the college to attend. An impressive vegan and vegetarian program also exists on campus, and there’s even an entire dining hall for Kosher-compliant vegetarians. There’s also a nut-free dining hall, and the campus bakery makes sure to stay nut-free as well. Each dining hall also has a cooler for students with gluten allergies, and there’s even a station called Clarity that has foods free of gluten as well as eight major allergens. Students with gluten allergies can also cook in yet another room just for them, complete with a stocked fridge. All foods have signs that indicate their ingredients and any allergens, and the Wellesley dining website even gives students the ability to filter their menu by allergens and preferences.
#13 Rutgers University (New Brunswick, New Jersey)
About 80 percent of the meals at Rutgers are made from scratch, and the school is pushing hard to get that number to a full 100 percent. Nutritiously balanced meals are still important at this college famous for its amazingly unhealthy grease truck sandwiches, and Meatless Mondays have been promoted for several years now. All dietary and allergic restrictions are accommodated, and a student-run healthy dining team tables regularly outside dining halls. Themed meals are held monthly at dining locations, and downtown New Brunswick is known for its plethora of diverse eateries.
#12 New York University (New York, New York)
NYU had the third-highest Yelp rating of the whole bunch of colleges we looked at, and the college definitely takes advantage of its location in the food bazaar that is Manhattan. With Campus Cash, students can purchase food from more than 20 locations including 5 Napkin Burger and Whole Foods, as well as on-campus vendors like Starbucks and Argo Tea. But the fun doesn’t stop there, as campus-wide events include a weekly brunch at the Palladium Dining Hall complete with fresh omelets, muffins, and fruits, and the spring Strawberry Fest, which features New York’s longest strawberry shortcake. Recently, NYU opened a community garden where students can learn to grow, tend, and harvest fresh fruits and vegetables — and on top of that, NYU is one of the first schools to create a master’s degree program exclusively for the study of food. If you ever have any questions about anything going on at NYU’s dining services, you can always check out The Scoop, the dining services newsletter with all the up-to-date information on menus and events, plus fun facts.
#11 Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois)
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 truly mind-blowing events that Northwestern University’s dining services host. The college is dedicated to showing its students a deliciously fun time, while still dedicating focus to the important issues of sustainability and nutrition. All six dining halls are completely tray-free, which encourages students to only take what they need for each meal, and all operate on a rotating five-week menu cycle. Local produce now makes up approximately 20 percent of the school’s ingredient purchases, and the number continues to rise.
The on-campus dietitian oversees all the menus to ensure healthfulness and holds quarterly “Meet the Dietitian” events to answer questions 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 as the on-campus ones. Lou Malnati’s, known for serving the quintessential Chicago deep-dish pizza, is right near the school. If you want to hang around campus, you could always head to Fran’s Late Night, a hotspot for studying and after-hours dining. Northwestern has also introduced Greens ‘N Things for Vegans, Vegetarians, and Flexitarians as a healthier, plant-based option.
#10 University of Michigan (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
UMich has a big focus on fresh, made-from-scratch food, with production being overseen by not one but 20 Certified Executive Chefs. Nutrition is of big importance here, with a team of five dieticians reviewing menus and ingredients, as is sustainability; the university’s dining services — referred to as MDining — work with local farmers and producers for produce, dairy, meat, coffee, and baked goods. Green certified and also designated an “Ocean Hero” by the Marine Stewardship Council, the University of Michigan’s achievements don’t just please the environment. Students have access to gluten-free, kosher and halal options, as well as vegetarian and vegan fare. The university also has all kinds of food events, such as programs with visiting chefs from around the globe and the country, themed Sunday brunches, and food symposiums.
#9 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Blacksburg, Virginia)
Virginia Tech has had a busy year, rising into the top 10 from the number 36 spot last year. Just this year, the school was named one of the Top 3 College Power Players by “Food Management Magazine,” and its meal plan participation — almost 19,000, twice the number of students living on campus (around 9,470) — quite impressive considering only on-campus students are required to purchase a meal plan. Sustainability is taken very seriously here, and the university has a farm sustainability manager who works with campus housing and residence life to bring sustainability practices to where students live. They also have a Y.E.S. (You’re Eating Smarter) Program with the goal of educating students on eating healthy and living sustainably, and student convenience has been taken quite seriously this past year with the introduction of Freedom Pay and the Tapingo mobile ordering app. Various food locations have been renovated the past year, and retailers have worked with the university to reach its goal this past spring of becoming 100 percent polystyrene free.
#8 University of Massachusetts Amherst (Amherst, Massachusetts)
Students at UMass Amherst have a great app that makes it easy for them to look up daily menus at campus dining locations, as well as hours, offers, and even traffic reports so that they don’t get stuck on their way to eat! Those with allergies or other dietary preferences can even plan their menus ahead of time. Events throughout the year include Local Chicken Dinner Day, Flavours of Canada, Pistachio Day, and Spring Dinner, and menu options range from Irish coffee bread pudding with Kahlúa sauce to chicken breast schnitzel with chipotle salsa. UMass Amherst also upholds high standards in nutrition and environmentalism with the UMass Permaculture initiative, which uses five on-campus gardens to educate students on sustainability and health. Purchasing at least 30 percent of their food locally and fair-traded, UMass-Amherst also participates in a composting program and supports a student-run farmers market on campus. There’s also always somewhere to eat, with one dining hall open as late as 4 a.m., and Baby Berk, the on-campus burger and taco truck, open until midnight.
#7 Boston College (Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts)
For a New England college, being able to offer locally sourced, always-fresh, never-frozen seafood is key. Add to that customizable and made-to-order dishes such as stir-fries, wraps, pastas, omelets, salads, phở, and pizzas, and you’re in business. But the dining experience at Boston College involves so much more than just tasty food. BC recently won a gold medal in sustainability for their FRESH to Table program, and the university has been dedicated to reducing food waste, using exclusively fair trade coffee, operating energy-saving equipment, sourcing as much food as possible from local farms, and donating excess food to over 40 nonprofits in the greater Boston area. BC Dining also offers a “Plain and Simple” dinner station completely free of the top eight food allergens. Students are also quite happy on account of a new and expanding mobile ordering service that also offers delivery and new pop-up events from their Ultimate Dessert Extravaganza to a completely vegan plant-based pop-up meal.
#6 Northeastern University (Boston, Massachusetts)
Each of Northeastern University’s three dining halls has a completely different theme: International Village offers everything from sushi to items made to order in its tandoor and brick ovens; Levine Marketplace’s eight stations serve a wide variety of home-style dishes including burgers, omelets, and fan-favorite chocolate chip cookies; and Stetson West offers stir-fries made to order on a flattop, brick-oven pizzas and calzones, and specialty sandwiches and hot entrées. Every dining hall offers an extensive selection of vegetarian and vegan options, two have kosher options, and one has a special section for those with food allergies.
Recurring series on the school’s dining blog include posts from the executive chef and nutritionist as well as tutorials on dorm cooking. All menu items are cooked in-house in small batches, and partnerships with local organizations allow them to purchase native New England seafood and fresh produce from area farms. International Village was also the first restaurant in New England to earn both a 3-Star Certified Green Restaurant distinction and LEED Gold status. Many of Boston’s best independent vendors both in and around campus accept meal plan dollars, including Whole Foods, and the school's display kitchen, called Xhibition Kitchen, features overhead cameras, induction stovetops, and round-top tables for onlookers. They’ve hosted chefs including Jacques Pépin, Ming Tsai, Alex Guarnaschelli, and “Top Chef” winner Kristen Kish. Annual food-focused events include a Fall Food Fest, a Mardi Gras celebration, Lobstah Night, and an “Educate Your Palate” Global Gala, as well as a weekly farmers market held throughout the year.
#5 Liberty University (Lynchburg, Virginia)
Liberty starts off right with its food by purchasing locally grown produce, particularly from the Liberty University Campus Farm, sourcing humanely raised animals and using cage-free eggs. Dining hall meals are well-balanced, and students are even encouraged to use MyFitnessPal to track their nutritional and caloric intake. This is easily done, as every food item has its nutritional value posted. Liberty is also dedicated to helping the planet and has a partnership with Eco-Products, their distributor for flatware, cups, and plates that are eco-friendly, BPA-free, biodegradable, and made from 100 percent renewable energy sources. The university is also dedicated to food waste education, with tabling sessions every Earth Day. In order to decrease the school’s carbon footprint, the dining program purchases much of its produce locally and even has a Meatless Monday program. Students can dine with their meal plans in either the resident dining room or any of the 23 retail locations on campus, and off-campus food purchases are possible too.
The dining program is also social media-savvy, sharing updates on health and wellness on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram along with offers and events, which include themed nights that showcase holidays or cities. There’s even a Liberty Dietitian Blog and informational tables and stands around campus. Students also get to judge the Manager Cook Off, where management teams are given a theme and a budget for decorations. The Food Court at Reber-Thomas was renovated in 2014 for $5 million to solve the problem of long lines and small serving stations, adding 13 dining platforms for a total of 14 which serve 10,000 diners every day. Liberty’s hometown of Lynchburg is also known for the Cheesy Western, so if you want to eat off campus, go for this burger stacked with cheese and topped with an egg sunny side up.
#4 Johns Hopkins University (Baltimore, Maryland)
Located in the food-friendly city of Baltimore, Johns Hopkins’ dining services continue to shine by converting Nolan’s on 33rd to an all-you-care-to-eat buffet for a greater value. Made-to-order stations are now available where students can customize their orders and get a text when the food is ready. Students can also choose from local vegan options, a create-your-own-pizza station, and a new late-night option at the LaB. Johns Hopkins also boasts a hotel-quality brunch, food and wine pairings for students of legal drinking age, 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, rotisserie entrées and sides, and carved-to-order roasted meat sandwiches, so you will always be eating well at Johns Hopkins. Everything in the dining halls is made in small batches and 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 services use compostable paper products and to-go packaging, and they compost all their food wastes and organic materials. JHU also only purchases cage-free eggs, hormone-free milk, and locally grown produce whenever possible. And if you are a student craving a late-night bite, stores on campus are open as late as 2 a.m.
#3 University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania)
Madison Hahn, University of Pittsburgh
The University of Pittsburgh is not only blessed with a location great for lovers of beer and food, but it also has a dining program that’s very serious about providing its students with food that’s delicious, healthy, and sustainable. With a big emphasis on reducing food and packaging waste and utilizing local and sustainable foods, the university participates in many events both on and off campus to educate diners and endorse sustainable food. Each week in the spring and fall, the campus hosts a farmers market, at which students can use their meal plans to buy local produce, baked goods, and other projects, as well as food from trucks. The farmers market also has a food waste drop-off where students, faculty, and staff can drop off food waste to be composted.
Dining halls are open until late, and dietary restrictions are also taken very seriously at all food and retail locations. Most important of all, Pitt’s dining program is very serious about student feedback, utilizing the food-focused events held multiple times a week to find out what students like and want. A bi-weekly Eat and Greet offers a free meal in exchange for feedback from the first 100 students, and student groups have also had great influence in creating more plant-based, sustainable, halal, and kosher options on campus.
#2 Duke University (Durham, North Carolina)
Duke topped our last two lists, and it’s still got a highly exceptional dining program. Its impressive-looking dining locations serve fare that sometimes seems more suited to a fine-dining restaurant than a college dining hall. If you’d rather not get dressed to go out and eat something, the university has a delivery program through which 15 off-campus restaurants from around the popping city of Durham will deliver to on-campus students. Even with plenty of dining options for students, Duke Dining makes sure to keep things healthy with their Balance Your Plate program, designed to help students build a healthy and still delicious plate of food. Sustainability efforts have only increased with the university launching its “Deliberate Dining Project” in January of this year, promoting its sustainability program, and just recently in July, it banned single-use plastics in all of its locations and will be requiring that all disposables be either recyclable or compostable.
#1 Columbia University (New York, New York)
Coming out on top is none other than Columbia University, rising up from the second place spot last year. New York is the city of dreams, and Columbia is making dreams come true by consistently proving to their students that the 600 menu items served on campus daily are just as good as, if not better than, anything else New York City has to offer. But if you really must eat somewhere else, Columbia’s dining plans let you use Flex Dollars at a slew of local restaurants and grocery stores, including Chipotle, Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, Five Guys Burgers and Whole Foods. You'll always find something to eat no matter the hour, and dining facilities are also open during breaks, giving students 17 more days of dining at no extra cost.
Since last year, Columbia University has gone even further in its goal of zero waste, with its Ferris Booth Commons becoming its first zero-waste facility this year. Columbia also consistently 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. It has also addressed food insecurity among students, offering free meals to students in need, no questions asked. The registered dietitian on campus is available both online and in person for one-on-one consultations with students. Columbia’s halal and kosher dining options are also notable, with an all-kosher dining location offering traditional kosher deli items and a halal dining plan at no extra cost with delicious meals, such as Mediterranean fish, roasted lemon chicken, and curried beef. The university has a plethora of special food events such as culinary competitions, pop-culture themed parties, and national holidays. This year, it’s added special pop-up tastings as well as events such as Back to the ‘90s, Bob’s Burgers Bash, and Pancakes & Pajamas for when students are looking for something different and don't feel like trying to figure out how to whip up a decent meal in their dorm rooms.
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