Whether in high school, college or beyond, many people will encounter a cafeteria that doesn’t exactly beat out homemade cooking. Whether it’s ambiance, poor selection, or poor quality cafeterias, by serving the masses of students, dining halls tend to serve just the bare necessities of a meal. If your cafeteria is less than ideal, here are some suggestions to make the best of the situation. While these tips are more geared toward college dining halls, they can definitely be tweaked to improve any cafeteria experience!
Get the Minimum and Grocery Shop
Some schools have multiple meal plans that allow you to decide how many meals you want at the main cafeteria. If you know that your cafeteria isn’t the best, get the smallest number of cafeteria meals. Depending on the school this means your meal plan is cheaper or your food allowance is shifted to another dining option. If your meal plan is less expensive because of fewer cafeteria meals use the money you save to plan a grocery allowance for yourself.
Having a grocery allowance will allow you to make sure your money is being spent on food you will enjoy eating. Find out if your campus or dorm has a kitchen that you can use to cook your own meals. Before the semester (or on break if you make this decision mid semester) find some simple recipes that you can make. While it is easier to spend a food allowance on easy mac and ramen, you can save money and have more nutritious meals by making a nice veggie pasta on Friday that lasts you a few days.
Even if your cafeteria is dreadful, don’t avoid it completely. The dining hall and meals in general is a fantastic place to solidify friendships and meet new people. Your tummy might be happier if you made every meal yourself, but this can lead to missing out on important moments, especially during exams when friends hardly see each other except while eating. When you really can’t stand eating at the dining hall, suggest going out for pizza or something else cheap and convenient. Better yet, invite your friends to sit down to one of your meals, as everybody loves a little home cooking!
Have a Backup Plan
If you are stuck with your cafeteria, it’s always good to have a backup plan, a go to meal you can make yourself when there are no other options. Try to plan these meals on staple items. My personal favorite is the grilled cheese because my dining hall almost always has some acceptable bread, cheese, and a panini press. Figure out the staples of your dining hall and what sandwiches, salads, or other basics you can resort to if need be. Additionally many dining halls have one or a few do it yourself stations that have more purposes that allow for a ton of possibilities . Stir fry stations for example can be used to make fried rice, eggs, garlic bread, grilled cheese, and much, much more! If your school has no such do it yourself station that may be a project worth pursuing.
Be the Change
Aside from handling your problems with the dining hall on a personal level consider looking into ways in which you might improve the cafeteria experience for everyone. Find out if there is a student or faculty-student committee of campus dining, and if not propose it! If you don’t want to make the dining hall your personal crusade simply find out if there are ways to make small suggestions. My school does in fact have a suggestion box where comments are put on a bulletin board for other diners to consider. Just by leaving a positive comment such as “I prefer plain corn to the chili corn” or “the bruschetta chicken was fantastic” you provide those in charge of planning meals invaluable data on what students like and don’t.