10 best campus dining programs

college students eating

After analyzing 1,384 colleges and universities, review site Niche.com has released its 2017 ranking of schools with the best food. Here’s an overview of the top 10, which were determined using a combination of student surveys and meal plan costs.

10. University of Georgia, Athens

university georgia dining food

University of Georgia’s award-winning dining program offers multiple events for guests, including the popular Taste of Home dinner, where chefs create meals based on recipes submitted by students’ parents. 

9. James Madison University; Harrisonburg, Va.

jmu dining donuts

James Madison University’s 28 on-campus dining options include all-you-can-eat dining halls, food courts, a food truck, coffee and smoothie bars, and national vendors such as Auntie Anne’s. The dining program has launched numerous sustainability initiatives including trayless dining, a reusable container program and Meatless Mondays. 

8. California Baptist University, Riverside

california baptist university chick fil a

The main dining hall on campus offers all-you-can-eat small plates inspired by Spanish tapas, as well as a make-your-own waffle station and soft-serve ice cream bar. Playing off of brunch’s popularity, students and faculty can enjoy all-you-can-eat brunch every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. 

7. University of Massachusetts Amherst

umass amherst dining burger toppings

UMass Amherst has the second-largest campus dining program in the country, serving more than 40,000 meals daily. Students have a plethora of dining options, including a dining commons, 18 retail cafes, two food trucks, a bake shop, concessions and on-campus restaurant the University Club. A testament to its offerings, the university’s dining program came under fire earlier this year for taking business from area restaurants. 

6. Bates College; Lewiston, Maine

bates college dining line

Over half of the solid waste at Bates College’s dining hall gets recycled through the college’s sustainability initiatives. To solicit student feedback, the dining services team has implemented a napkin board at the entrance of the dining hall, where students can write comments and food requests on napkins. 

5. Bowdoin College; Brunswick, Maine

bowdoin college juice

Bowdoin College makes all of its menu items from scratch using locally sourced ingredients such as beef from area farmers and produce from its on-campus organic garden. Students with dietary restrictions are also able to get gluten-free and vegan dishes at every meal. 

4. Culinary Institute of America; Hyde Park, NY

cia kidney beans squash

The Culinary Institute of America’s campus offers multiple dining facilities where students can both cook and eat. The Egg, the largest dining facility on campus, offers indoor and outdoor seating that accommodates over 500 students and includes a student-run brewery.

3. Washington University in St. Louis

washington university beef burger

Run by Bon Appetit, the dining program at Washington University in St. Louis features menu items made with fresh, locally sourced food. Students in a rush can use online and mobile ordering at three dining facilities on campus. 

2. Virginia Tech, Blacksburg

virginia tech food trucks

Virginia Tech’s dining options include two food trucks, a grab-and-go market and several cafes and dining halls. Those looking for fine dining can grab dinner at Origami, an on-campus Japanese steakhouse. 

1. University of California at Los Angeles

ucla mac cheese

Coming in at No. 1, UCLA serves vegetarian and vegan menu items at every dining facility on campus, and its four residential restaurants offer as many as ten entree choices per meal. The university has also made strides in sustainability by offering trayless dining and compostable to-go packaging. 

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Three years ago, Colonial School District in New Castle, Del., started a pilot supper program at its high school. The goal: To make sure the district’s students, 57% of whom are on free or reduced-priced meals, would not be hungry when school is done for the day.

Since its inception, the program has expanded to 12 schools and now provides afterschool meals to children participating in YMCA activities. And it's just one of many such programs popping up in districts throughout the country, as operators add supper to the list of daily meals they provide for students.

Ideas and Innovation

We put our hydroponic gardens in a spot where students can watch them grow, but at the same time it’s safe from being tampered with. At one of our elementary schools, the gardens are in the kitchen, but there’s a window where students can look in as they walk down the hallway. Some even stop to count how many cucumbers they see.

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food snap

We started a 50-member vegan team in response to students expressing the need for more vegan options. Between our monthly meetings, students are asked to take photos of foods they eat in and out of the dining halls to give us a true picture of the kinds of things they like and the kinds of foods that cause disappointment. This exercise has sparked a lot of conversation and given us more insight into what we could do better.

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