From left to right: taco bowl with rice, beans, pulled pork, sour cream, and peppers for a friend, a sandwich and pasta, and the vegan taco bowl for me, with mango salsa and chips. Sammi Bray, special to the Record-Journal

First year college student gives tips for campus dining

First year college student gives tips for campus dining

First year college student gives tips for campus dining

College dining halls can be a scary place. They either feel huge and maze-like or too small with nowhere to sit- and that’s all in the same ten minutes. With Covid, the rules feel like they’re constantly changing. One day, it’s self-service and by the next meal, it isn’t. But, that’s just the atmosphere. Some colleges are known for their great food, while others have students raking up DoorDash bills.

Here’s some tips to getting the most out of your meal plan.

Check the menu beforehand

This is a great way to plan out what you want to eat, especially if you have certain dietary restrictions. Lots of schools use apps or their own website to upload the menu ahead of time, letting you know what to expect. If food is separated into stations that tend to have long lines, this is also a great way to figure out if it’s worth the wait. If you don’t have this option, remember that the foods tend to be similar, so learn the patterns. For example, one station might always have burgers and another always has pasta.

Try to hit the core food groups

Most days, I am tempted to just eat french fries or pita with hummus. While these are great snacks or side dishes, they definitely won’t keep you full for long. I like to try to find something with protein- like legumes, beans, peanut butter- and lots of different vegetables. The variety makes the meal more enjoyable and makes me feel better. 

Always add a salad

Salads are a great way to get in all those food groups I just mentioned, but they also can be a way to try new things. I like to add different toppings each time and most schools have a salad bar. Try different nuts or seeds, different cheese, pickled vegetables, meats, or an egg to take your salad to the next level. It won’t keep you full on it’s own, but it’s a great addition to lunch and dinner.

Keep extra snacks in your room

If the dining hall just isn’t enough, having your own snacks can make a simple meal more exciting. Some students keep their favorite condiments in their dorm to bring into the dining hall, like spicy mustard, hot sauce, or honey, while others take their food to go and add to it later. Lots of these items also are in dining halls. Some mornings, I like to get oatmeal, then mix in peanut butter from the bagel station or add seeds from the salad bar to steamed vegetables. Get creative- but try not to create waste!

And when you absolutely cannot eat another dining hall meal, support a local restaurant!

Most colleges have restaurants near-by that are locally owned, while other larger campuses have restaurants on campus that students often work at or help run. For special occasions, schools may also invite these venues on campus!

Sammi Bray is a first year student at Trinity College in Hartford. She is studying public policy and law, with a minor in rhetoric, writing and media studies. She has been freelancing for the Record-Journal since June. You can contact her at

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