2017 C&U Census: Diners' choice

College students sound off on sourcing, allergens, meal plans and more.

What they're eating

Of all their food purchases, students say they are most likely to purchase a midmorning or afternoon snack on campus, at 42% and 38%, respectively, as opposed to off campus. Once dinnertime hits, those numbers drop precipitously compared to off-campus purchases; 19% are more likely to buy dinner on campus; 16% said the same for a later dinner after 8 p.m.; and 16% for a late-night snack. 

  • 43%—The percentage of overall students that say fresh fruit is their most preferred snack, including half of women, likely due to its portability and healthfulness. Men were most likely to purchase potato chips or pretzels, at 36%.

Breakfast burrito bust?

Just 24% of students say they prefer a breakfast wrap/sandwich/burrito in the morning, down from 31% in 2015. Overall, students are looking to items perceived as healthier and lighter, as shown below.

students' preferred breakfast foods

  • 42%—Among trendy foods and beverages, students say they’re most likely to order international street foods such as tacos, empanadas, arepas and spring rolls. 

International foods

While Chinese is still tops, student interest is grooving toward less-mainstream ethnic foods like Indian cuisine, which 29% of students say they are likely to purchase, up from 24% in 2015. 

Percentage of students likely to purchase ethnic cuisines:

  • 62%—Chinese
  • 56%—Italian
  • 45%—Spanish
  • 43%—Sushi
  • 36%—Greek
  • 35%—Thai
  • 29%—Indian
  • 28%—French
  • 26%—Mediterranean

What they're not eating

Since students are more likely than the general U.S. population to follow a special diet, it’s no surprise that their expectations for college dining are at an all-time high. While 15% of Americans follow a special diet such as vegetarianism or veganism, the same applies to 20% of college students, 34% of whom say their school does a good job filling their needs.

  • 51%—More than half of students ages 18-24 say they don’t avoid any meat or animal products. Shellfish was the most likely animal product to be avoided, at 29% among this group.

Allergic reaction

Of the 1,500 respondents, 11% reported some sort of allergy, and of that group, students were most likely to report an allergy to dairy, at 31%. Peanuts, shellfish and wheat/gluten were the runners-up among the Big 8 allergies, with 20%, 18% and 16% of students, respectively, reporting an allergy. Items in the “other” category included citrus fruits, mushrooms and coconut.

  • 22%—While nearly one-quarter of students say gluten-free foods are more healthy or nutritious than other options, 83% say they don’t limit their gluten intake. Some 4% of students overall say they either have celiac disease or a gluten intolerance.

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