Transforming the Way Food on College Campuses is Served

College campuses conjure up images like filled football stadiums, new freshmen learning the lay of the land, and crowded auditoriums and cafeterias. While many consider the obvious things students encounter on campus, often left out of the equation is the college dining experience. But the food on college campuses is as essential as any other university experience. So how can dining halls, cafeterias, and food venues keep students and staff engaged on campus? There are various ways, and we’ll consider some of the most important ones now.

Enhance Sustainability by Combatting Food Waste 

Food waste is a big issue in the United States. According to the nonprofit Feeding America, the country throws out over 119 billion pounds of food annually. That means about 40 percent of all the food in the United States is thrown out in some capacity. Universities are employing various tactics to help tackle this issue and become more sustainable.

Cornell University in Ithica, New York, works to eliminate food waste by redistributing food to the local community. At week’s end, prepared foods and baked goods at retail eateries get redistributed to the college dining facilities open on weekends, providing another opportunity for them to be purchased versus pitched. Perishable foods from dining halls and the catering kitchen get donated to a local food bank. Any leftover food above and beyond that often goes to the local Food Recovery Network.

Texas A&M University in College Station also works with community partners to combat food waste. By donating fruits and vegetables to a local wildlife sanctuary that otherwise would be thrown out, the university can help reduce food waste.

Protect the Environment with Climate-Friendly Food Options

How can we help conserve resources and minimalize how our food choices impact the environment? This is an important consideration for today’s students, as more and more college attendees consume less meat and focus on choosing climate-friendly food options. By adding more beans, fruits, tofu, kelp, and locally grown products to menus, food on college campuses not only makes an environmental impact but, in some cases, even promotes menu diversity in an era when our college campuses are becoming more and more multicultural.

For example, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst received a grant to bring locally sourced, climate-friendly kelp to their menus. The new ingredient allows the dining department to start making traditional Korean kelp dishes that appeal to students and staff. The grant also allowed them to experiment with using kelp in new ways, such as a pizza topping. And the University of Mississippi is one of several colleges using the World Resources Institute’s Cool Food Meals badge to identify about 350 menu choices that use less beef and lamb. This gives a unique option to customers interested in reducing their meat consumption or making climate-friendlier choices.

Turn to Plant-Based Concepts to Attract Today’s Diners

Another sustainability effort and overall popular cuisine is that of the vegan and vegetarian diet. Vegetarians and vegan diners have always existed, but their dietary choices today are more prevalent than ever. For C&U nutrition directors looking to attract more students, it’s important to provide diet options that include fruits and vegetables, plant-based milk, nuts, brown grains and rice, legumes, and herbs.

According to Plant Based News, 41 percent of Americans have purchased nut-based, non-dairy milk. And studies show that 14 percent of college students consume plant-based diets, which is why the food choices on college campuses are evolving. At the University of Connecticut, they’ve gone a step further and created a plant-based café menu. In addition to vegetarian options, there are also many gluten-free items available. By including a few gluten free items, the University of Connecticut is satisfying another target group of customers and keeping students on-campus when it’s time to eat or snack. Ultimately, it’s never been easier to live a meatless lifestyle. Plant-based meat substitutes have reached their highest quality yet, and are widely available. For directors, it’s never been easier to provide meatless options, and it’s certainly advantageous.

Middleby has the solutions to help keep food on college campuses on trend and tasty. 

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Feeding America

Cornell Sun

World Resources Institute

Plant Based News

Tasting Table

Topics: Colleges & Universities, Foodservice Industry Trends