Sadhvi Mathur 10 min read College Lists

20 Colleges with the Best Dining Halls

Food quality and options are often not metrics that students weigh heavily when deciding which college to attend, but perhaps they should be. After all, college is the notorious place for students to gain the “Freshman 15” pounds from eating too much unhealthy food. That being said, many colleges are now taking the lead in healthy and sustainable food efforts, and it’s worth taking note. 

 

In that vein, we at CollegeVine have compiled our list of the 20 colleges in the United States with the best dining halls. Of course, “best” is a very subjective term that can encompass a wide variety of metrics like the taste, diversity, nutritional value, and more. All of those are important, but we at CollegeVine have chosen to rank these dining halls based on the following traits: 

 

  • Sustainability: This is a measure of whether each college is using sustainable food practices like using locally grown produce, using farm-to-table products, and engaging in practices that sustain the economic viability of farm operations. 

 

  • Versatility: How many different cuisines does each college offer in its dining hall? Are there options for all different diets? Students need a variety of food options if they are to maintain healthy eating habits. 

 

  • Health and Wellness: It is of the utmost importance that dining halls supply healthy food that will maintain the vitality and well-being of the student body. We won’t penalize a campus for having the occasional late night unhealthy snacks, but overall, these top college dining halls are working hard to provide healthy food options to their students. 

 

  • Student Reviews: University students are often surveyed about how they like the school’s dining hall food. It’s important to factor these in as they are the impressions of the people who actually eat the food itself. 

 

Now that we have our metrics, let’s move on to the schools!

 

Top 20 College Dining Halls in the United States: 

 

1. Bowdoin College

 

 

Bowdoin College has shown a commitment not only to giving its students healthy, delicious food, but also to offering a versatile selection made with sustainable, locally-grown produce. Bowdoin boasts that their meat comes from an in-house meat shop, where you can find grass-fed beef. Also, many of their dining halls’ fruits and vegetables come from an on-campus organic garden. Finally, you’re likely to find many vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and other special diet options at Bowdoin college along with special allergen labels next to every food item.

2. The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA)

 

UCLA is a clear winner when it comes to their wide range of food options. The campus boasts four “residential restaurants” under their dorm complexes, giving students quick and easy access to a healthy and culturally diverse food selection. In addition, students have access to MyPizza, the university’s exclusive online food delivery service that can get students a delicious pizza or even wings with the touch of a button. To top it all off, UCLA has a number of quick-service restaurants around campus for students in a hurry, along with a few places that stay open until 2 AM for students pulling an all-nighter to study for their exams.

3. The University of Massachusetts – Amherst

 

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst really sets itself apart by being committed not only to providing students a variety of food options, but also to committing to sustainable food practices in the New England Food System. The campus has four traditional dining halls with stir fry and pho stations, 18 commercial restaurants and cafes, a campus bakery, and a delivery service to boot. In addition, they source all of their produce and seafood from local vendors in the New England market, maintaining its commitment to local, healthy food for its students.

4. Vanderbilt University

 

Dining at Vanderbilt is all about healthy food in a pinch. Most of their dining establishments are 24-hour hour grab-and-go-type marketplaces filled with fresh produce, groceries, and ready-to-eat sandwiches and salads. If you’re looking for a longer sit-down meal, you can go to any of their cafes, bistros, and other casual dining establishments. However, the real highlight of Vanderbilt’s Dining set up is Gins Vegetarian Cafe, which boasts a Kosher-certified kitchen and fresh ingredients. This cafe has a made-to-order concept so that your food is always as fresh as possible.

 

5. Kennesaw State University 

 

Kennesaw State University truly has all of the options a student needs to lead a healthy lifestyle. In addition to a wide variety of commercial fast food joints like Chick-fil-A, Hissho Sushi, and Burrito Bowl on campus, they have “The Commons,” their main dining hall. This is the best place for students to get healthy, diverse options at any time of the day. There is even an interactive online menu that tells students about the nutrition and sustainability of each food offering. Finally, Kennesaw State University has thoroughly committed itself to sustainable food practices by sourcing from its on-campus food garden and enforcing a strict recycling and composting program. If that weren’t enough, KSU donates ready-to-eat meals to those in need. 

6. University of Chicago

 

UChicago’s Dining Hall is all about supporting the local community. They source a substantial portion of their food from local suppliers, many of them owned by people of color. In addition, they run a “mystery diners” program that allows students and others to fill out surveys on the dining hall’s meal quality and the quality of the dining experience. UChicago’s dining staff then reviews the results and modifies accordingly. There are four dining halls on the UChicago campus, one of each is always open from 9 PM to midnight for those students who are staying up late. Each dining hall caters to a wide variety of diets from Kosher to gluten-free and even halal. Finally, UChicago’s Treats from Home program allows student’s friends and family to send them personalized cakes, cupcakes, and giant cookies from the school’s dining service.

 

7. Emory University 

 

Like most of the top 20 dining halls, Emory is committed to food sustainability. Emory dining aims to grow 75% of its food locally, reduces waste through recycling, water-saving efforts, and the elimination of plastic bags and styrofoam. They also donate excess food to local food pantries. Moreover, Emory’s Dining serves a larger role in the community as an advocate for farmworker rights and nutrition education in the area. Of course, students have a wide variety of healthy options, including vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, and kosher meals. Lastly, Emory’s student-run Food Advisory Committee meets once a month to communicate feedback from the students to the dining staff about food quality and dining experience. 

 

8. Hendrix College

 

Hendrix College really makes the dining experience personal and fun for their students. Hendrix dining offers customizable food stations like a DIY stir-fry station and a salad bar so that students can form their meals to their own tastes. They also have quirky traditions like one lucky student who gets to eat with the sparkly disco dining tray, and personalized birthday cakes and serenades on students’ birthdays. That’s not all, though! While there is always a vegan or vegetarian option at each meal, students look forward to Meatless Monday, where the chefs find new ways to make classic dishes vegetarian (think: buffalo cauliflower pizza!). Students can also always check out the World’s Fare station at the main dining hall, which offers cuisine from around the world. Finally, Hendrix’s dining program is supplied partly through an on-campus garden and partly from local, organic vendors. 

 

9. Cornell University

 

Cornell University’s dining is about quantity and quality! There are nearly 30 different restaurants, cafes, and dining halls across campus for students, each with high-quality, versatile food options. Cornell’s ten all-you-can-eat dining rooms always have a wide variety of meal options from create-your-own-pancake and omelet stations to ethnic foods and kosher stations. The dining halls will also do fun theme nights to celebrate special occasions like Diwali, Mardi Gras, and Day of the Dead. Each of these fun nights comes with ethnic food from the culture that is being celebrated. Cornell does all of this with a commitment to locally grown produce, especially their dairy products, which come from Cornell’s very own dairy processing plant. Cornell also encourages the use of reusable mugs and a trayless system that reduces water use and waste.

10. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)

 

Virginia Tech has over a dozen different dining options for its students, including traditional cafeterias, food courts featuring popular chain restaurants, and two food trucks that camp around various hot spots throughout the day to serve hungry students. Virginia Tech Dining has also won numerous awards for its sustainability initiatives, from sourcing produce from the on-campus farm to its composting program to reducing waste by using reusable containers/water bottles.

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11. Washington University in St. Louis

 

Washington University in St. Louis is committed to providing tasty, nutritious food from all types of cuisine all over campus. At the northern end of campus is The Village, which has more casual restaurants like Stir Fry, Old World Deli, and Comfort Food. Towards the center of campus is the DUC, a large and extensive cafeteria. The South end of the campus has the Bear’s Den, which houses authentic international food from all over the world. In addition, Washington University offers food from local vendors within a 150-mile radius from campus! All of its dining services offer hormone-free meats, fair trade coffee, and reusable/recyclable dishes. The campus also has food delivery trucks that run on biodiesel made from cooking oil. Students can even take cooking classes through the dining halls! Finally, WU employs a dietician who is constantly working with campus dining to create sustainable, healthy menus for the students.

12. Bates College

 

Bates College has one powerful dining facility: the Commons. This cafeteria offers a rotating menu of delicious and healthy foods for students. For example, every breakfast offers an omelet bar and a waffle bar, there’s brunch on the weekends, and there is an entire Vegan Bar open at every meal. All of Bates’ milk products are hormone-free, and their meat/produce comes from local sources. In addition, Bates College is dedicated to the diversion of solid waste. They have a composting program, and they donate extra food to local homeless shelters. They even have an incentivized reusable mug program, where students earn points for every use of a reusable beverage container to eventually win free guest passes to the Commons.

 

13. Boston University

 

BU has a plethora of nutritious options for its students. There are four residential cafeterias, almost two dozen cafes and quick-service restaurants, an on-campus pub, and a “Late Night Kitchen” that serves comfort food until 1:00 AM for those students who are staying up late to study. They are truly committed to providing healthy meals for their students, offering nutrition counseling and a Sargent Choice meal plan that makes healthy eating a no-brainer for the student. Also, students are invited to participate in Community Supported Agriculture, a program where students buy some of their produce from local farms. BU even hosts a farmers’ market each fall to help make this happen. In addition, BU hosts a number of visiting chefs throughout a semester who add new healthy items to the dining menu. Each dining hall offers kosher dining, and there’s even a halal program available. Finally, ill students can purchase a Flu meal package online, which contains food to make them feel better, delivered by a student volunteer so they can stay in bed. 

 

14. The University of San Diego 

 

The award-winning dining program at the University of San Diego offers a dining hall, cafe, restaurant, market, and coffee shop. It also has a campus food truck with Kumeyaay Indian, Asian, and Portuguese cuisine. USD dining likes to keep it festive for its students with special events like Mari Gras dinner, an apple and strawberry festival, and both Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. The University of San Diego received an A+ rating from PETA for its vegan menu. USD has a unique concept in La Paloma, its stand-alone cafe that offers sustainable, local food options with an international twist. USD also maintains a commitment to sustainability with completely recyclable, biodegradable, and eco-friendly dishes, a reusable water bottle program, and the country’s first on-campus BioHiTech digesters to break down food waste.

 

15. James Madison University

 

James Madison University has over 28 unique dining options, so the students are unlikely to go hungry. One thing that is unique to James Madison is the number of chain restaurants available on campus like Dunkin’ Donuts, Starbucks, and Subway. Of course, they also have traditional all-you-can-eat dining halls, food courts, a smoothie bar, and a Fueled Food Truck that brings nutritious, locally-sourced Asian fusion cuisine to campus. Their dining halls feature some really interesting choices like made-to-order-omelets, a Tandoori oven, and plenty of vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free options. To top it all off, the university has undergone many sustainability initiatives like trayless dining to conserve water, composting, donating leftover food, and recycling fryer oil.

 

16. Liberty University

 

Liberty University features one award-winning dining hall, the Reber-Thomas Dining Hall. It operates like a food court, with nearly 20 dining options in one place. Some of their unique dining stations include Training Table (a place with nutrient-dense meals for athletes), Simple Servings (which has meals without 7 out of 8 of the most common allergens), and Global Fusion (which has made-to-order authentic Asian and Mediterranean dishes). This dining hall also engages in sustainable practices by being a trayless cafeteria with sustainably-sourced dishes and paper products.

 

17. Pitzer College

    

There are four main locations on the Pitzer College campus where students can get fun, environmentally and socially -conscious cuisine. Two of them, the McConnell Bisto and the Pit-Stop Cafe, are run by Café Bon Appetit, a progressive company that strives to make delicious food that is good for students, animals, and the Earth. Pitzer dining also offers fun theme nights, diverse food options, and fresh farm-to-table options. If Pitzer College students don’t want to go to a traditional dining hall, they can get delicious cookies from the Grove House and environmentally and socially-conscious cuisine from Shakedown Cafe. 

 

18. New York University

 

New York University is different in that it is so spread out through New York City that a traditional main dining hall doesn’t necessarily make sense. Instead, students who purchase a meal plan can get food from 16 different eateries all across Manhattan and Brooklyn.  One of the larger places to get food is Washington Square, where students can find dining halls, food courts, and casual eateries with a wide variety of local and international cuisines. The university also has a dining hall that is 100% kosher, along with vegan and vegetarian options in most dining facilities. Of course, NYU is also committed to sustainability through their trayless dining, fryer oil recycling, and hydration stations. However, NYU goes the extra mile by offering training to university employees on energy and water conservation.

19. Middlebury College

 

Middlebury takes away all the hassle of meal plans, with the limited number of swipes and the pre-purchased points that students have to ration. Instead, Middlebury College offers a one-time, all-inclusive fee for students that allows them to eat in as many dining halls as they want and eat as much as they want during any given meal period. This is great as there are three top-notch cafeterias for Middlebury students to choose from, each of which boasts a unique dining experience. Middlebury College also strives to reduce its ecological footprint by composting 99% of its food waste and offering biodegradable eating dishes and utensils. 

20. The University of Georgia

 

The University of Georgia’s dining service has won many accolades, from the Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards for Excellence to the IFMA Silver Plate Award for College Food Service Operator of the Year. UGA has the famous Bolton Dining Commons, which has food to satisfy any sort of craving. Made-to-order omelets, all-day pancakes, a stir-fry bar, and a “Special Selections” line for students with common food allergies are just some of the options available at Bolton. UGA Students also have the opportunity to customize their dining experience with customized burgers, sandwiches, burritos, stir fry, and more. Finally, UGA offers a yearly Taste of Home competition, where students can submit family recipes to the dining halls to be made by the staff, and perhaps even included in the dining hall menu. 

 

Wrapping It Up

 

Food is just one important part of living a healthy lifestyle. Whether it be in college or in high school, it’s important to maintain your physical and mental health as well as you can. Here are some resources to help you do that: 

 

5 Reasons to Prioritize Health and Fitness In High School

Being Well: How to Manage Stress and Cultivate Mental Health In High School

8 Important Skills To Develop Before College

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Sadhvi Mathur
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Sadhvi is a recent graduate from the University of California, Berkeley, where she double majored in Economics and Media Studies. Having applied to over 8 universities, each with different application platforms and requirements, she is eager to share her knowledge now that her application process is over. Other than writing, Sadhvi's interests include dancing, playing the piano, and trying not to burn her apartment down when she cooks!