There is no question that dining hall food isn’t exactly créme de la créme when it comes to quality. I’ve been (un)lucky enough to eat at a handful of different dining halls across the country, and rubbery chicken and undercooked rice is not a problem specific to your school… it’s something of a national epidemic.
At the very least, if your dining hall’s food makes you feel queasy you certainly are not alone. There’s certain things that seem to be equally as awful (or, in some unique circumstances, half-decent) no matter where you go to school. Here’s how I ranked dining hall foods from most to least sketchy based on my experience.
1. The Meat
This, I’m sure, surprises none of you. It starts out promising enough: The entree sheet promises roast pork, and that sounds pretty good, right? When the line dwindles, and you can finally see the canned vegetables and instant potatoes, your eyes land on what was supposed to be your source of protein for the evening, and all you can think is, that is NOT pork. There is no way that’s pork. You probably expected something like the photo above… But ended up being served something like this:
Which is quite disappointing, though not overly surprising once you’ve been eating there for more than a week or so. I’ve consumed chicken so dry I could barely get it down, and beef that was so rare it was practically still mooing. If I wasn’t such a carnivore, I’d avoid the meat at the dining hall entirely.
2. The Rice/Pasta
I’m about 90% sure that my university doesn’t cook these two right on purpose… because I’ve never had decently cooked pasta or rice at my dining hall. Either the noodles are so mushy a 6 month-old would turn their nose up at them, or they are so undercooked I can’t help but wonder if they forgot to throw them in the pot of water before they were served. Same goes for the rice. Couple this with a usually less-than-savory sauce (something syrupy and too sweet for the rice, a weird variation of alfredo or marinara for the pasta) piled on top of them and you’ll be craving your mom’s cooking more than ever.
3. The Fruit
This is especially disappointing, as I have a huge sweet tooth and my only shot at avoiding the dessert table is if something at the fruit counter looks good. Which is far too rare, considering the dining hall is almost my exclusive source of nutrients. Occasionally, the dining hall will have some “fresh fruit” rather than canned pineapples and peaches, but usually, we only have the typical apples, pears, bananas, and oranges to pick from. And boy, can they be gross. Brown bananas, overripe, nearly rotting pears, apples that are a weird, too-bright green when you bite into them. I know, they’re dining halls. I’m not expecting fruit brought in fresh from the market, but I certainly wouldn’t complain if I got to eat an apple without bruises and soft spots once in awhile.
4. Burgers and Fries
While the burgers are often dried out or super greasy (as college foods tend to be), they’re actually… pretty decent. And there’s nothing about the fries that can’t be fixed without a little salt and ketchup. Typically, they are fried to a perfect, golden crisp, not dripping in grease and relatively flavorful. Whether they’re steak fries or curly fries, they taste good. With that in mind, it is not all that surprising that college students struggle to keep a healthy diet. Which leads me to the least sketchy of all the dining hall foods…
5. The Desserts
Without fail, every school always has something good to offer when it comes to dessert. For some schools, it’s cookies that are soft and chewy, with the perfect amount of chocolate chips. At others, it’s their chocolate pie, or the s’mores bread pudding. I’ve even found some pretty killer lemon bars and puddings at college desert bars. Sure, the cheesecake you grab from the dessert bar isn’t going to be anything like the specialty cheesecakes you might get at a restaurant (hello, Cheesecake Factory), but all things considered, it’s a pretty tasty way to end your meal.
If you’re hoping for a tantalizing meal, you probably aren’t going to get it at the dining hall. But, with the dessert like a ray of light at the end of a very dark, dreary tunnel, you’ll get through it. If anything, you’ll become that more appreciative of your mom’s home cooking, or those special occasions you actually get to go out to eat.