Campus Life

Colleges with The Best Food

I’ll bet that most high school students researching prospective colleges don’t give a lot of (or any) thought to how good a college’s food program is as one of their selection criteria. When you think about it, food quality is a very important aspect of college life.

Many high schoolers come from homes where good meals are a matter of routine. They tend to take to take delicious, healthy eating for granted. Some may even have the skills to prepare their own good eating. The problem comes in when they leave home and are at the mercy of their college’s cooks and kitchen.

With the cost of higher education at all-time record highs, one would think that good eating on campus these days is a given. That’s wishful thinking, unfortunately. I could bore you, as I usually do, with The Tales of Dave, looking back across the eons to my college daze. I recall that in a former article about college dining, I mentioned the name of the gentleman in charge of food service at my small liberal arts college, a Mr. Bloodgood. That moniker conjures unfortunate images.

In scouring the Web for the latest information on good college eats, I encountered quite a few articles that listed their version of which schools offered the best food. I had to wonder by what criteria they judged these menus. Some conducted surveys, relying on the highly objective responses of students. Others may have actually sampled the delicacies provided, by visiting the schools and arranging for an in-the-trenches sit-down at the respective cafeterias.


So, let’s take a look at one article that purports to celebrate the best in higher education dining. Peter Jacobs writes in Business Insider about The 20 Colleges With The Best Food In The Country. Here are some highlights, some of which may surprise you.

Jacobs begins his survey by naming the country’s best college food and naming his source:

Bowdoin College — which traditionally sees its graduating seniors off with a lobster bake — has the best food of any college in the country, according to the Daily Meal.

For the second year, the Daily Meal released its list of the “Best Colleges for Food in America,” ranking colleges’ food on healthiness, sustainability, service, nutritional education, and the “X Factor” — something unique that the school does to differentiate themselves.

Some things that may have helped schools rank on the list include bringing in local food, running educational events, or having an on-campus hibachi restaurant.

You can check out the full list here, but these are the top 20 colleges where it pays to invest in a meal plan.

Since we now already know which college is #1, let’s sample seven of the remaining 19 from the Jacobs-Daily Meal listing.

#20 Stanford University gets students involved by hiring dining ambassadors who encourage wellness, sustainability, and healthy eating.

The closest I ever came to being a “dining ambassador” in college was when I would run back to the dorm and warn my fellow dorm buddies that we were having “Bloodgood mystery meat.”

#19 Princeton University just implemented a ‘Lunch-to-Go’ program, where students can order bagged lunches to be picked up wherever on campus.

Now this is a service that would bring comfort to students who miss Mom’s magic, caring touch. “I’ll have a salmon salad sandwich on Ezekiel bread. Hold the butter, but add just a touch of lite mayo and some Grey Poupon, if you will. Please deliver to the main entrance of Richardson Auditorium at 12:30 p.m. where I’ll pick it up after my piano recital practice.”

#17 University of California, Davis students can participate in ‘Take a Taste,’ a program that allows them to sample dining hall food and offer their opinions.

I wonder what kinds of opinions the food service mavens get from their teenage “tasters.” Maybe something like, “I thought the hamburgers to be a bit dry, Instead of using 90-10 ground beef, next time, try 85-15, which will add just a touch of moisture, thanks to the additional fat content. Also, I might add that the Sweetened Passion Tea Lemonade was a bit tart. Perhaps a touch of powdered sugar sprinkled lightly atop the brew, as to effect the reflection of a beautiful cumulus cloud on Lake Lucerne, would bring the overall taste more into line with accepted lemonade norms.”

#15 Grinnell College offers a Culinary Intern Program, which gives students hands-on experience in various sides of college food service.

I’m trying to imagine how the hopes of many a Grinnell food service interns have been dashed by being relegated to scraping the uneaten portions of Grinnell’s daily menus from those lovely china plates, while they dream of donning the vaunted chef’s hat. A backward-turned baseball cap hardly makes up for the honor of scullery duty.

#10 Yale University offers a program called ‘Reality Bites’ that teaches students about mixology, wine and meal pairings, and formal dining etiquette.

“Mixology” and “formal dining” seem like odd bedfellows. When I think of college and alcohol in the same context, I don’t usually get visions of fine linen tablecloths, polished silver, and crystal goblets. Instead, I see flaming, overturned dumpsters, clouds of teargas, and flashing police lights. Maybe the Yalies learn how to properly prepare and serve at faculty and administrative functions.

#8 Kennesaw State University is constantly changing their menu options, and offers students more than 150 new dishes every day.

In case you’re wondering where the term “Freshman 15” came from, here’s your answer. I think that perhaps the phrase “150 new dishes every day” may be a slight exaggeration. However, I’m sure that there are some KSU students whose to-do list includes sampling as many of those 150 as possible. Maybe the correct term should be “Freshman 150.”

#4 Emory University has many dining events throughout the semester, including an heirloom tomato festival and Valentine’s Day dinner.

The “Heirloom Tomato Festival” intrigues me. I’m imagining going through the food line with my yet-unadorned hamburger on festival day and having one of the chef’s reach out and say, “Here you go Dave. Try a slice of this beautiful beefsteak love apple from 1956 on your ‘burger. My grandmother grew it and willed it to me a couple years ago.” Heirloom tomatoes. Right.


That’s just a sampling of America’s best college food programs. Check out the Daily Meal‘s full list of 60 for the full scoop, so to speak. Bon appetit!


Check College Confidential for all my college-related articles.