Boston University's dining hall meals are completely to-go this year, and while the new system is convenient and pandemic-safe, it comes at a cost of freshness and flavor. With meals already packaged, students are unable to hop to each station and customize which food goes on their plates. In the grab-and-go shuffle, there's a lack of creativity – a stodginess in the sealed containers, in the lukewarm food, in the apples sheathed in saran wrap. 

Throughout the pandemic, I have found comfort within food. Once I returned to campus, however, this became harder, as my meals were no longer home-cooked but dining hall takeout. So, over these past few months, I've picked up on a couple tricks to improve my dining hall meals – both in flavor and in appearance. Devised from personal experience and the help of some friends, I present to you six hacks to improve your dining hall meals:

1. Store your favorite salad toppings in your micro-fridge.

The dining halls offer two types of salads:

1) Garden salad with tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, and black olives

2) Caesar salad with parmesan cheese and croutons 

Luckily, there is an assortment of dressings and condiments to help students spruce up their salads and other meals. However, I find myself getting tired of the same salad week after week. So, I recommend having on hand your favorite cheese and other vegetables. If you're craving some extra flavor and protein, why not add some feta cheese to your garden salad? If you miss the option of putting mushrooms and broccoli in your salads, buy some pre-sliced packages of each so you can add them whenever the mood strikes. Little things like these can make a huge difference and make you feel less constricted to the dining hall options. Even though the meals are to-go, the opportunities for customization are still limitless – you just need to have a couple extra ingredients on hand to add some personal touch to your meals.

strawberry, milk, yogurt, chocolate, orange juice, coke, cream cheese, sweets, candy, fridge, mini fridge
Denise Uy

2. Grab extra fruit while you're at the dining hall.

Pandemic or no pandemic, I think this is always a good idea. I love grabbing an extra banana for my breakfast the next morning, whether I eat it with cereal or add it into my yogurt or oatmeal. Bananas are also a great snack – especially with peanut butter spread on top. You can find some more inspiration here

Same goes for apples; you can add them into your oatmeal, eat them for a snack, etc. If you accumulate a bunch over time, you can even make simple desserts like apple crisp.

Nora Verdier

3. Grab multiple meals.

The downside to pre-packaged meals is that you can't control your portions. I've found the meals to be portioned a little too small for my appetite, so I tend to take two or three things from different stations. This way, if I don't like one meal, I always have another to fall back on. And if I find myself too full to eat everything, I have extra meals that I can easily store in my micro-fridge and reheat for lunch or dinner the next day.

4. Speaking of reheating, use your microwave!

If you live on-campus, then you most likely have a microwave in your room. This has been an asset to improving my to-go meals. Since meals are pre-packaged, it's understandable that they won't be as hot as they normally are when they're served directly onto your plate during non-pandemic times. And it's inevitable for meals to cool down as you walk from the dining hall back to your dorm room. But with the magic of a microwave, you can easily reheat your meals to bring back their warmth and flavor – a little goes a long way.

Ellie Yamanaka

5. Make a plan: check the dining hall menu before you go.

Some people are either rolling their eyes or vigorously nodding their heads while reading this, but I truly think there is value in checking the dining hall menu before you go. Sure, you can't control what you're going to get, but it's sometimes helpful to make a plan to mentally prepare yourself. And if nothing on the menu stands out, consider getting takeout from a local business instead.

6. Once you're back in your dorm room, take your food out of its container and put it on a plate or in a bowl.

I don't do this every time due to my recurrent laziness to wash my dishes. However, constantly eating out of plastic containers can wear me down. Sometimes, all I want is it eat my meal from a plate to make it feel more like, well, a meal. While this tip does nothing for flavor, it recognizes the value of aesthetics. Eating food from a plate of bowl can make the meal feel a little less dismal and a bit more homey.

I hope these six tips at least slightly improve your dining hall to-go meals and help bring back the comfort of eating. It's a crazy time to be in college, but with the support of each other and some good food, we will get through it!