Have you ever been hungry and said “Man, I’m really craving some dining hall food right now”? Yea, me neither.

Well at least that’s how I used to feel. I fell into a dining hall rut where I would get the same food everyday. Before I came to college, I would look forward to each meal and daydream about what I would have for dinner. Once I got to school, the spark slowly faded, as I felt limited with the dining hall options. So I decided to take a new approach to my dining hall experience. Doing this opened my eyes to a number of dining hall hacks that have leveled up my dining hall experience.

1 . The salad bar is your best friend

meat, vegetable, chicken
Emma Delaney

Whether you’re in the mood for a hearty salad or looking for something to freshen up your plate, the salad bar is the place to go. The salad bar is overflowing with not only fresh vegetables and fruits but also food like coleslaw, beans, hummus, and much more. There are some hidden gems in the salad bar–you just have to be willing to look. Don’t assume the salad bar is only for salads. You never know what could be hiding in the salad bar to enhance your eating experience.

2. The vegan station is your new secret weapon (even if you’re not vegan)

sandwich, cheese
Susanna Mostaghim

The make your own wrap or sandwich at the vegan station is a godsend when you’re in the mood for good, fresh food. Load up your sammie with veggie and protein options, plus sauces like hummus, chipotle mayo, and guacamole. If I’m still in the mood for meat, I grab some rotisserie chicken from the salad bar and add it to my wrap or sandwich once I sit down. Just because most of your meal is coming from the vegan station doesn’t mean your whole meal needs to be meat free. You can even turn your sandwich or wrap into a panini by asking for it to be toasted.

3. Make your own bowl

The third and possibly the most important hack of them all is to create your own bowl. There are endless combinations you can squeeze into a bowl. Feeling Japanese food? Make a Teriyaki bowl. In the mood for Mexican? Create a burrito bowl.

Channel inspiration from the Chipotles and Cavas of the word to create your own customizable bowl. Here’s how:

Step 1: Choose a base

spinach, cabbage, salad, pasture, lettuce, vegetable
Caroline Ingalls

Your base can range anywhere from grains, like rice or quinoa, to greens, like spinach or lettuce. This adds volume to your bowl and sets the tone for the rest or your meal. Choosing a simple base is key so your flavors are harmonious.

Step 2: Pick a protein

meat, chicken, pork, barbecue, beef, sauce
Christin Urso

This can be chicken breast, fish, tofu, beans, and much more. One of my personal favorite proteins for bowls is the pre-cut rotisserie chicken that can be found at the salad bar. This is a great option if you are looking for a protein that does not have too much flavor if you want your toppings and sauces(s) to speak for themselves.

Step 3: Add toppings

salad, vegetable, pepper, onion, tomato, spinach, lettuce, oil
Jennifer Cao

Pile on your favorite toppings. The best way to do this is to diversify where you find your toppings. Check out the salad bar, vegan station, and even the stir fry station, if you’re on south campus. Be creative and don’t be afraid to try something new.

Step 4: Choose the sauce

Becky Hughes

This might be the most crucial step. The sauce is what transforms your dinner from random food thrown into a bowl to a full-blown a meal. Sauces can be found near the utensils, at the salad bar, vegan station and the stir fry station. Don’t be afraid to mix and match, but the key is to know your limit. Some people love slathering their food in sauce, while others prefer to just add a dollop. To stay on the safe side, you could always get sauce on the side and add it in as you eat your DIY bowl.

Step 5: Revel in your glory

Taylor Kozloski

At this point, all there is left to do is pat yourself on the back and ask your friends to call you Chef from now on. A new creation could truly change your dining hall experience for the better.

PRO TIP: Grab a larger bowl that is usually by the cereal for maximum mixing ability.

The next time you’re headed to the dining hall, try out these tips to boost your eating experience. The dining hall has potential– you just have to know the tips and tricks to make a tasty meal. It takes creativity, but once you get the hang of it, you’ll be a dining hall connoisseur.