So you've moved onto campus, probably living on your own away from your parents, friends or family for the first time. Now that you don't have Mom at home making dinner and grocery shopping, you've got to fend for yourself. Rather than starving yourself, your campus provides a dining hall (and a mandatory meal plan) with an all-you-can-eat buffet.
While it may sound awesome, don't swipe your owl card just yet. After eating at FAU's Atlantic Dining Hall for a whole semester, I've learned the hard way that ADH is definitely NOT your grandma's kitchen you have grown to love. So here's 3 tips on how to survive the dining hall from hell.
Tip #1: Timing
When you're at a school with more than 30,000 students, getting a seat at the dining hall is all about the timing. After all, there's a reason your cell phone tells time, and no it's not for you to hit the snooze button. The Atlantic Dining hall, like everywhere on campus, has it's own hours of operations, and if you don't want to get stuck with cold cereal, you'd better pay attention to them. You can even view the menu online ahead of time, so if you take advantage of that you can strategize to get the best foods at the best times.
Breakfast starts at 7 a.m. and ends at 10:30 a.m. That's right, 7 a.m. So drag those lazy legs out of bed unless you feel like skipping breakfast. Being on time not only allows you to be the first person in line, but it also guarantees you the best/freshest plate of scrambled eggs. Now by all means take your time and hit that snooze, but just know if you don't put a pep in your step you have a 99% chance of getting served with lukewarm or watered down scrambled eggs.
Not the scrambled type? No problem, just give yourself plenty of time to wait in line at the omelette station. These are my go-to choice, because you can pick your fillings and watch them make it, so you know you're not getting some gross old eggs.
Got a sweet tooth? Hit up the waffle and cereal bar for a sugar rush and a serious spoonful of nostalgia. It can get pretty crowded at times, but it's often the holy grail of the dining hall, since it's open day or night. Breakfast for dinner anyone? Depending on what else is being served, waffles is ALWAYS a solid option.
Congrats, you've survived breakfast, but now it's time for lunch. Lunch runs from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. with "limited service"
from 2 p.m. until 4:30 p.m. Both serve the same food options from three stations. Corner grill has you covered with your traditional burgers, chicken and french fries to make yourself a deluxe sandwich, and Delicatessen is your basic deli selection. It's no Subway but this place will be your saving grace for when your tight on time or just want something safe to eat, when nothing else seems to agree with your stomach.
You can make your own grilled cheese (which might be even better than Mom's) and they can also make subs for you, but most importantly it's all about the wraps. Super popular, wraps are the meal of choice for lunch rush, so plan accordingly. The dining hall is also going green, so stop by the salad bar if you want something light or refreshing for a change. Or maybe you want to keep off those freshman 15. Those are one of the best meals too, especially if you're in a rush.
Set your alarms because it's about that time, Happy Hour! On campus happy hour at the cafeteria is at 4:30 p.m. ending at 7: 30 p.m. During this time all walks of life enter the dining hall. Dinner rush is at 5 p.m. (you've been warned) so either grab a to-go plate or be patient for a decent seat. Happy hour sadly doesn't serve alcohol but it makes up for what it lacks with dinner variety. Let you taste buds travel the world during happy hour. It's your only time slot for a change of menu on the daily, located at the Home Kitchen section.
One more thing to note is that the dining hall may be all-you-can-eat, but that doesn't mean it's open 24 hours, which sucks, I know. Set your weekend reminders because on Friday the dining hall closes at 7 p.m. On the weekend it opens and serves brunch at 11 a.m. and closes promptly at 7 p.m.
Take note that the chefs at the dining hall are no Gordon Ramsey, so don't be surprised that your food taste bland. Top off your meal with your new bestie, the condiment station.
Tip #2 Condiments
Don't be shy- grab those salt and pepper shakers and shake it up, your taste buds will thank me. No but seriously the cooks are no top chef, so condiments are the icing on the cake, don't leave the cafeteria with out it. Make use of the condiments to spice up your dish whether it be ketchup, ranch dressing, and/or hot sauce- the choice is yours.
Sometimes, adding condiments is the only thing that can make a particularly bland meal edible, so get creative. I've seen countless students go to the Delicatessen and ask only for chicken salad to put on top of their salads. So be bold and don't conform to the norm. Mix it up- trust me no one is judging you. We're all trying to choke down the same mediocre food.
So you have survived breakfast, lunch and dinner, but will that hold you over? In case of a severe hunger crave, stock up on your snack favorites.
Tip #3 Emergency Snack Kit
At least a few times a week, the munchies are bound to hit, causing you to wake up your roommate with the loud grumbling coming from your stomach. So rather than starving yourself or getting bloated (and probably dehydrated from all the sodium) of eating Ramen noodles 24/7, build yourself an Emergency Snack Kit.
If you don't want to break the bank and buy a mini fridge, buy non-perishable foods that don't need to be refrigerated. My snacks of choice are Welch's fruit snacks, Quakers Chewy Granola Bars (bought in bulk at Costco) and bagged apples. Or stick with the classic and make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Whatever your preference is, just make sure the items you buy can be resealed or invest in Ziploc bags or a large sealable bin to store your food. No one wants ants or roaches crawling all over your food or in your bed.
Just like setting alarms for class, don't forget to set some for the dining hall, don't be afraid to get your hands dirty and use some condiments, they're there for a reason, and be sure to stock your dorm with an emergency snack kit. So the next time you head into the Atlantic Dining Hall be sure to use these tips to navigate safely as a commuter student or a resident.
Next time when you swipe your Owl card at the Atlantic Dining Hall you will be armed and dangerous with these survival tips. So pat yourself on the back. You are now a master of timing, a connoisseur of condiments and snack King or Queen. Whether you are a commuter student or live on campus, Tackling the dining hall will now be the least of your worries. May the odds ever be in your favor.