Saturday, July 13, 2024

A Student’s Guide to the 12 Best College Food

Dive into the best college eats!

Does the thought of cafeteria food make you shiver? While elementary and high school lunches may not have brought up the best memories, college campus meals can be a game changer. 😋

Plenty of schools have transformed their dining halls into culinary havens that serve the best college food, making absurdly high sticker prices worth it. From global dishes to classic comfort bites, our guide takes you on a delicious adventure to the best college food in the country. 🍽️ 

1. University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMASS)

UMASS prioritizes fresh, locally sourced ingredients to bring flavorful eats that satisfy even the most discerning taste buds. No wonder The Princeton Review named them the top school with the best college food for the seventh year in a row. 🏆

The UMASS experience involves eating food from a wide range of guilt-free choices — campus cafes, dining halls, and food trucks, or even having it delivered to your doorstep when sick. All first-year students default to the Unlimited 250 Plan, but you can drop by any of their dining commons to enjoy the all-you-care-to-eat program. 😋

Good to know: UMass addresses food insecurity and implemented initiatives like the “No Student Goes Hungry” policy to ensure that students can access nutritious meals and support when they need it most. 

💰 Meal plan rates: $1,753 to $3,881 per semester 
📍 Location: Amherst, MA
🏫 Type: Public

2. James Madison University (JMU)

A stomach that has traveled the world will love JMU. You’ll get a taste of tandoori chicken, hibachi bowls, and all kinds of pasta without ever leaving campus. With a simple swipe of the JACard, you’ll unlock fresh, high-quality meals prepared by talented chefs. 🫶🏻

If you’re craving well-known favorites, JMU Dining also offers popular brands like Chick-fil-A, Subway, and Dunkin’ Donuts. Plus, the D-Hall and E-Hall’s themed dinners offer a culinary adventure, from a nostalgic 90s feast to island-inspired jerk chicken and pineapple. 🍍

Good to know: The D-Hall and E-Hall have True Balance stations to serve students with specific allergens or preferences. There is also a Worry-Free Zone, an isolated pantry that has goodies for those avoiding gluten, peanuts, and tree nuts.  

💰 Meal plan rates: $2,989 to $3,347 per semester 
📍 Location: Harrisonburg, VA
🏫 Type: Public

3. Washington University in St. Louis (WUSTL)

A diverse group of college students gathered around a table, enjoying a meal together with the best college food
WUSTL sources local and organic ingredients whenever possible, reducing their carbon footprint. Photo: serezniy/Depositphotos

Are you craving both a spicy Bibimbap and a hearty Arrabiata? WUSTL’s global cuisine selection seeks to satisfy an adventurous foodie like you. The blog, The Monthly Dish, keeps you updated about all things dining-related on campus, like the Spring Food Truck Series, where the histories of local food trucks are unearthed (and you even get to know which will be visiting the campus). 🚚

The school also partners with local businesses to support the St. Louis community. Last fall alone, it brought over 18 different food trucks to campus, including a significant representation of minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

You’ll have plenty of meal plans to choose from, and the most expensive one even gets you an unlimited coffee club card and a complimentary birthday celebration cake. 🎂

TIP: The dining system lets you roll over unused points to the next semester, and some plans even come with bonus perks like free coffee and birthday cake. 

💰 Meal plan rates: $5,320 to $8,046 per year 
📍 Location: St. Louis, MO
🏫 Type: Private

4. St. John Fisher University (SJF)

To make the most of the many food choices available, SJF students can opt for the Ultimate Meal Plan. This includes 350 swipes for meals at any dining location, $100 in dining dollars for flexible snack and beverage purchases, and five guest passes to share the deliciousness with friends. 

This dedication to student satisfaction is further reflected in how student feedback is constantly considered when creating menus. It’s no wonder SJF was awarded the prestigious Chartwells President’s Circle Award for Account of the Year

To keep things exciting, the university constantly creates new seasonal menus and throws epic-themed events like Turkey Burger Time, Halloween Bashes, and Mardi Gras Celebrations. 🎃 

💰 Meal plan rates: $2,580 to $4,037 per semester 
📍 Location: Rochester, NY
🏫 Type: Private

5. St. Norbert College (SNC)

Three college students sitting at a table engrossed in their work on a laptop while eating the best college food
To avoid waste, SNC’s leftover prepared meals are donated to a nearby food pantry at the end of the day. Photo: Freepik

SNC offers four meal plans called ‘Knight All-Access’ options that act like cash on their student ID, allowing them to have a good meal at Phil’s, Ed’s Café, Ruth’s Marketplace, or Dale’s Sports Lounge. The college also partnered with Grubhub, so that orders over $18 can be delivered free straight to your dorm room. 💸

But the school is also committed to reducing food waste. Meticulous menu planning, creative use of leftovers, and composting vegetable scraps for its student-run garden, which supplies the campus with fresh produce, completes its efforts for sustainability. 🌱

Good to know: For those busy days or off-campus activities, students can even use two to-go meals per week. This convenience ensures that you never have to compromise on a nutritious meal, even when you’re on the go.

💰 Meal plan rates:  $2,995 to $3,514 per semester
📍 Location: De Pere, WI
🏫 Type: Private

6. Virginia Tech (VT)

There’s no such thing as a dull bite at VT. Students can indulge in fresh, healthy dishes found at vibrant campus dining centers and roaming food trucks. 🛻 Meal plans here come with Flex swipes (which are prepaid meals), so students don’t have to worry about paying with cash. 

The addition of D2, a comprehensive all-you-care-to-eat haven, and Turner Place, a jampacked food court, has also contributed to elevating the dining experience on campus. VT’s West End Market isn’t also your average cafeteria since everything is made fresh to order. Plus, there’s a dessert station piled high with treats and refreshing smoothies to cool you down. 🧉 

💰 Meal plan rates:  $2,503 to $5,563 per semester 
📍 Location: Blacksburg, VA
🏫 Type: Public

7. Bowdoin College (BC)

Four young people enjoy sandwiches together at a table, sharing a meal, and engaging in conversation
Bowdoin incorporates sustainable practices into its dining operations, composting food scraps and opting for eco-friendly packaging. Photo: pressmaster/Depositphotos

BC offers a range of flexible meal plans for different eating habits, including the all-inclusive 21-meal plan, the 10-meal alternative, and declining balance plans. In addition to vegan and vegetarian dishes, extensive salad bars, and nut-free and gluten-free selections, all menu items are labeled for allergens. A registered dietitian is also on staff to provide personalized support. 🥩

Established in 2005, the Bowdoin Organic Garden serves as a central resource for the College’s sustainability mission and dining program, growing fresh produce and flowers while fostering a sense of community through volunteer opportunities and educational workshops. 🧑‍🌾

Good to know: BC Dining offers a variety of student jobs that provide on-the-job experience in areas like customer service, communication, teamwork, and even baking.

💰 Meal plan rates: $2,000 to $9,202 per semester
📍 Location: Brunswick, ME
🏫 Type: Private

8. Hendrix College (HC)

Dining at Hendrix treats you to themed lunches, holiday meals, and events with live music to add a touch of fun to your college routine. The HC Cafeteria staff even goes the extra mile to surprise students with birthday serenades and cakes! And if you need to refuel after an intense late-night study session or back-to-back classes, the Hendrix dining halls stay open late to keep you going, no matter your schedule. 🕐

In addition to a selection of healthy, low-fat, vegetarian, vegan, and allergy-friendly options, a registered dietitian is available to address dietary concerns and offer personalized nutritional advice. 

Their efforts toward sustainability in the kitchen, such as reducing waste and promoting recycling, earned them the Loyal E. Horton Dining Award from the National Association of College and University Food Services.

💰 Meal plan rates: $2,300 to $7,200 per year 
📍 Location: Conway, AR
🏫 Type: Private

9. University of San Diego (USD)

There’s almost always a guarantee that the juicy burger you’re about to eat in USD is made from cows lovingly raised on a nearby farm. This is because they partner with nearby local producers to supply fresh, high-quality ingredients for their dining halls. 🐄

But their dining plans also stand out because they’re tax-exempt, unlike most campus options. Let’s say a typical meal on-site costs $8. With a regular plan, an additional 8 percent sales tax can be expected which brings the total to $8.64. It might seem small, but ordering meals over a semester will result in a pretty hefty bill. 

Most plans even include free guest meals, but their availability and frequency depend on your selected meal plan. 🥣

Good to know: Download the GET FOOD app to order your meal straight from your phone. The app also allows you to schedule a convenient pick-up time that fits your busy schedule.

💰 Meal plan rates: $2,380 to $3,176 per semester 
📍 Location: San Diego, CA 
🏫 Type: Private 

10. Cornell University (CU)

The stereotypical image of college food isn’t pretty—limp lettuce, questionable mystery meat, and soggy ramen noodles. But at Cornell, high-quality ingredients are transformed into diverse and delicious dishes. Students can also directly provide feedback on menus, knowing their input is valued and can influence future offerings. 😊

Financially conscious students will also appreciate tax-free purchases and flexible meal plans, while online ordering and off-campus grocery partnerships are provided for convenience.

We can say that fun is at the center of Cornell’s dining scene thanks to themed events and activities, like era-based dishes and sushi-making classes. There’s also a unique Mystery Shopper program where students can evaluate their experiences anonymously to give the service crew an idea about the service’s strengths and weaknesses. ❓

💰 Meal plan rates: $5,728 to $7,132 per year 
📍 Location: Ithaca, NY 
🏫 Type: Private 

11. University of Dayton (UD)

Forget the ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. UD Dining offers Standard, Flexible, Neighborhood, and Co-Op options for students, depending on their unique lifestyle and budget. The convenient online bakery at UD offers different treats for all types of occasions is one of the reasons why the school has the best college food. 🥮

Since 2009, the University of Dayton has also taken a proactive approach to sustainability. Its dining halls use an on-campus composter to turn waste into nutrient-rich soil. This campus service also benefits the local community, as local farms and producers are tapped for fresh, high-quality ingredients. Some local partners include Moss Creek Farms, Young’s Jersey Dairy, and Bella Sorella Pizza Dough.

Good to know: UD’s Dining Services runs Food4Flyers, a dedicated pantry offering confidential food assistance to students facing food insecurity.

💰 Meal plan rates: $1,050 to $3,050 per semester 
📍 Location: Dayton, OH
🏫 Type: Private

12. Muhlenberg College (MC)

MC Dining makes meals memorable with themed dinners like Pasta Mondays and Stir-fry Wednesdays. You can also try cooking classes or dine at pop-up restaurants for new flavors. 🍝

They use fresh, local ingredients in seasonal menus labeled with nutrition icons for healthy choices. One unique program is Simple Servings, an allergen-free station catering to common allergies and gluten-free diets.

Muhlenberg’s dining philosophy emphasizes inclusivity, with a registered dietitian offering nutritional guidance and special menus for gluten-free, vegan, and healthy options. 🧑‍⚕️

💰Meal Plan rates: $822.50 to $3,182.50 per semester 
📍Location: Allentown, PA
🏫 Type: Private 


Remember, the best college food is the one you enjoy, matches your preferences, and keeps you energized throughout the day. With a happy stomach, you’re sure to conquer every academic challenge that comes your way. Bon appétit! 😋

Best College Food in the US: Frequently Asked Questions 

Which school has the best college food?

Various factors, such as taste, meal plan rates, sourced ingredients, and suppliers, affect how we determine the quality of food served at each college. 

Virginia Tech offers some of the best college food, with 47 dining venues and a farm-to-table program. Meanwhile, Washington University in St. Louis takes a different approach, partnering with local businesses to support the community. Last fall, they brought over 18 food trucks to campus, many from minority-owned and women-owned businesses.

Which colleges serve healthy food on campus?

What is a college meal plan?

Where do most college students eat?

What is the average cost of college meal plans?

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