Soper Commons Dining Hall, commonly referred to as Commons, is the largest dining hall at Hamilton College. Known for its grilled chicken, long lines at the sushi bar, forks (or lack thereof), and Marge, it is the gathering place for most at mealtimes.
However, students have been attempting to make Commons more like mom’s home cooking for some time now. After experimentation, requests, and recommendations, here are 20 hacks to help make your daily Commons experience more adventurous.
1. Apple Cinnamon Oatmeal
Getting tired of the plain old “original” oatmeal served every day? Spice it up by making your very own Quaker instant apple cinnamon oatmeal. Serve yourself some “original” oatmeal, sprinkle it with the cinnamon sugar to the left of the oatmeal bar, and grab an apple and knife. Cut the apple into small bite size pieces and toss into you oatmeal. The apples will warm up and soften, making every bite delicious.
2. Fun Waffles
My first commons waffle hack is to always thoroughly spray the waffle maker. A waffle stuck to the waffle maker is not a happy waffle and you will not be a happy waffle eater. Secondly, spice up your Saturday morning waffle. Head over to the ice cream toppings station and grab some sprinkles, M&Ms or any other goodies (be careful with nuts though…nut allergies are still alive and well). Pour your waffle batter into your well-greased waffle maker and then sprinkle your m&ms and sprinkles on top before closing and cooking. Finish off with a dollop of whip cream.
Got a class in 10 minutes and want to grab something for breakfast that’s not a bagel? Grab a coffee cup and spoon in some yogurt, granola, and sliced banana or grapes. You can also add chocolate chips, peanut butter, apple, Nutella, Cheerios or anything else you’re craving that morning. Don’t forget a plastic spoon before you’re off to class.
4. Quinoa Bowls
My favorite item at Commons’ salad bar is hands down their quinoa, so why not make a meal of it? Grab a bowl and fill it with a good size portion of quinoa, adding in other veggies or cheeses from the salad bar, grilled chicken, cut up hot dog or tofu, and then add a little olive oil, balsamic vinegar, or any other dressings you like. This dish could also be served HOT. Just pop it in the microwave for around 30 seconds and finish off with salt and pepper. Delish.
5. Unconventional Salads
Is your favorite lettuce not at the salad bar today? Then skip lettuce all together. Gather all of your favorite salad toppings and dressings and mix together for a delicious veggie bowl.
6. Salad Bar Sandwiches
Sometimes the sandwich bar can really be lacking, but never forget that there’s a fantastic salad bar right around the corner. Grab your favorite bread and fill it with all the accoutrements you like at the sandwich station. Now, pick up your sandwich and start walking around with it to see what looks yummy. Grilled chicken instead of ham? Cucumbers, sun-dried tomatoes, hard boiled egg, and artichokes from the salad bar? Peppers and Onions? Caesar dressing instead of mayo? The possibilities are endless.
7. Flatbread Pizza Sandwiches
Remember those surprisingly sophisticated flatbread pizzas Commons puts out every once in a while? Remember the awful bread to topping ratio? Well grab that flatbread pizza and take it to the salad bar. Add more lettuce, dressing, veggies, anything you want, and then take it to the sandwich bar and do the same. Finally fold your flatbread pizza in half and stick it in the panini maker. This is a go-to lunch for me.
8. Apples and Cranberry Salad
I make this salad at home all the time and what do you know…Commons has all the ingredients to make it. Put a good portion of arugula on your plate (or any other lettuce) and add craisins (or raisins), bleu or feta cheese, cut up apple, sesame seeds, torn up grilled chicken and then sprinkle some balsamic vinaigrette or any sweet dressing on top.
9. Red-Wine Vinegar and Mustard Dressing
Tired of the same old dressings at Commons? Then make your own. In a bowl or cup combine together some red-wine vinegar (or balsamic), olive oil, salt and pepper, and Dijon mustard from the sandwich bar. Mix with a spoon and pour over your freshly made salad.
10. Parmesan Chips
The easiest hack out there. Grab a coffee cup and a lid and fill with Commons potato chips. Now search for the parmesean cheese (usually by the pasta or the pizza) and sprinkle a good amount inside, cover the cup with your lid, then shake it like a polaroid picture (with your thumb over the hole in the lid please). Oh so good.
11. PB&J Party Mix
Once again, grab your handy-dandy Commons coffee cup and fill with rice chex, a spoon of peanut butter, and a spoon of jelly, and mix to your heart (and belly’s) delight. Add some sliced banana if you’re feeling frisky.
12. Homemade Mac and Cheese
Commons always has pasta at dinner, and they always have cheese, which means that your go-to I‘m hungry and don’t want to wait in line dinner is mac and cheese. Grab whatever pasta you like, add any of the cheeses Commons provides (feta from the salad bar, cheddar from the Mexican bar, parmesan near the pasta), mix and pop in the microwave, sprinkle with some pepper and enjoy.
13. Pasta Primavera
Scoop a good sized portion of your favorite noodles onto a plate and then add in some sautéed mushrooms and onions from near the grill, roasted veggies from the sandwich bar, anything from the salad bar, and then add some tomato sauce on top. I reccommend mixing up everything a little and then popping your dish in the microwave so that everything is warm. Sprinkle on some parmesan and bon appetit. (get it?)
14. Taco Pasta
One of my favorite dishes to make at commons. Grab your favorite pasta and then head to the taco aisle. The taco toppings are usually fantastic and I usually add cilantro, cheese, pico de gallo, lime, olives, and anything else that looks yummy. You can even add some of the taco meat or beans, or grab some chicken or a bean burger from the grill.
15. New and Improved Ramen Bowls
This is a great dinner option for when you want to make something quick and easy in your room. Grab some tomatoes, brocolli, mushrooms, chicken, tofu, peppers, cilantro, or anything else that looks tasty at commons and put them all in coffee cups. Add a little salt and pepper on top and then head back to your room. Start heating up some water and put all your Commons goodies in a bowl with your ramen and seasoning. Pour your hot water into your bowl, cover and let sit for around 5 minutes before enjoying your homemade soup.
16. Peanut Noodles
One of my absolute favorite hacks. Ask for lo mein noodles at the lunch noodle bar and add any other goodies you like, but don’t ask for broth. Instead take some peanut butter, soy sauce, and chili flakes and mix into your noodles creating your very own peanut noodle sauce. Again, I recommend heating everything up quickly in the microwave.
17. Brownie Sundae
Grab your favorite brownie (I recommend the frosted ones) and heat up for 10-20 seconds in the microwave. Add a scoop of your favorite ice cream on top, along with some sprinkles and chocolate chips. Heaven.
18. PB&J Ice Cream
Add a scoop of peanut butter to strawberry or black raspberry ice cream and mix around until satisfied (add jelly too if you want). You can also add sliced banana, or put everything in a tortilla for a delicious PB&J ice cream burrito.
Grab a glass and scoop in 2 scoops of your favorite ice cream. Add any milk of your choosing to the glass (making sure it doesn’t overflow) and stir. A few of my favorite combinations are chocolate milk and mint ice cream, soy milk, and cookies and cream, or just plan old chocolate milk and chocolate ice cream. Raspberry sorbet and coconut milk is also a good dairy-free option.
20. Ice Cream Sandwiches
The best for last. Grab two cookies of your choosing (I recommend chocolate chip cookies because they go with everything) and add a scoop of your favorite ice cream in the middle. Mm mm good.