Any ranking of the best college food is bound to bring out the fuddy-duddies who will complain, “In my day, college food was mystery meat in the dining hall, and we had to eat it or go hungry!” Forget all those sour grapes – campus dining in the 21st century is a whole other experience, with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, sustainable practices, socially-conscious choices, and some of the haute-est of the haute cuisine you’ll find anywhere, designed by world-class chefs and kitchen staff. The College Consensus Best Campus Dining Halls ranking points students to the colleges and universities that have upped their food game to 11.
What Makes a Great College Cafeteria?
The name of the game in the best campus dining is health and sustainability. All over the US, colleges and universities are improving student life with renovated dining halls, innovative recipes, and top-notch ingredients. Sure, students may still favor delivery pizza in the middle of an all-nighter, but today, that pizza may be fresh-made dough from a local flour mill, tomatoes grown on a student-run organic farm, and cheese from a sustainable dairy. Many dining systems now offer on-site dietitians for students with allergies, as well as specialized options like vegan, kosher, or gluten-free menus. It’s no surprise: just like colleges have focused on making top-ranked college dorms, and world-class recreation centers, campus dining is a crucial part of overall student health and well-being, which, in turn, means success.
In the best college dining halls, health and sustainability go hand in hand, with colleges reaching out to local producers for veggies and fruits, meats, dairy, and more. One of the biggest movements in college dining is waste reduction, whether that means composting uneaten food, or encouraging recycling; some of the best college dining halls even convert their cooking oil into biodiesel! Whether it’s reusable take-out containers, biodegradable disposable dishes, or low-energy buildings, colleges have made sustainability central. Community service is key as well, with many institutions donating unused food to local charities to fight food instability. On top of all that, campus dining is a crucial part of making for the best student life, as well as helping students stretch their dollar to pay for college – a real struggle for many students.
Ranking the Best College Dining Halls
Whether they are small colleges or large colleges, public or private, institutions of all kinds are working to revolutionize campus dining. Of course, no such listing can be considered entirely objective. To qualify for the ranking, schools must have a Consensus score generated from their publisher rankings and student reviews. From there, College Consensus editors surveyed rankings of the best college dining halls to find the institutions most deserving of recognition for their innovations and quality in dining. The result is a ranking that highlights the very best colleges and universities, with an emphasis on their dining programs.
Colleges are ranked according to their Consensus score.
Long recognized as one of the most prominent liberal arts colleges in the nation (ranked #4 in the College Consensus ranking of Best National Liberal Arts Colleges), Bowdoin College has been a model of service and student life for more than two centuries. Bowdoin’s exceptional student support and rich student culture is famous throughout the US – in fact, Bowdoin also ranks in the College Consensus 35 Best College Dorms. Bowdoin is especially known for the high level of financial support it gives students, with needs-blind admissions and a policy of meeting all needs with grants rather than loans. That makes Bowdoin one of the top institutions for low-income and disadvantaged students among elite colleges – and its incredible dining options are just the tip of the iceberg.
Bowdoin has long led rankings of the best student dining, and it’s not hard to see why. Few schools have the commitment to healthy food and sustainability that Bowdoin has, starting with the Bowdoin Organic Garden. The Organic Garden is a key part of Bowdoin’s dining experience, providing fresh produce by the season, including veggies, fruit, and herbs. A crew of professional chefs and cooks prepare fresh food each day, and the Student Dining Advisory Committee makes sure the student body has a high level of input. Bowdoin’s dining is entirely in-house and self-sustaining, thanks in part to 96% participation from students – a Bowdoin students needs never leave campus for some of the finest dining in Maine. And did we mention the annual Commencement Lobster Bake for graduating seniors? It’s Maine, after all.
A top 10-ranked liberal arts college, Carleton College is small (just 2500 students) but mighty, with a history of Fulbright Scholars, Rhodes Scholars, and one of the highest rates of undergraduate students who go on to doctorates. Carleton isn’t all hard work – its academic excellence is supported by the highest level of students services, including quality dining that helps keep students healthy and living up to their potential. In particular, Carleton emphasizes its commitment to sustainability, including its work to uphold the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment. Carlton uses only compostable disposable products, and encourages students to reduce waste. Students also participate in the Carleton Food Recovery Network, sending uneaten food to community partners in local food-insecure areas – more than a ton per year!
With all of the good that it does for the environment and the community, Carleton doesn’t forget the first priority – getting the best, freshest foods for students. Four dining areas, including the new Weitz Cafe and the old standby Burton Dining Hall, make sure students have hot meals available at nearly any time of day and night. Dining facilities have an array of fresh options, including gluten-free and allergy-safe options for just about any student need. Some of Carleton’s most fun initiatives include the Recipes from Home program (students submit their favorite family recipes to be featured in the cafe) and Treats from Home (parents have scratch-made treats delivered to their student from the dining hall). Carleton dining makes sure going away to college doesn’t have to mean losing touch.
Brown University, one of the oldest institutions in the US (and one of only 9 founded before the American Revolution), is has been a leader in almost every way from Day 1. The first non-sectarian college in America and the first Ivy League engineering school, Brown also revolutionized college education with the Brown Curriculum – the first college curriculum to replace general education courses with interdisciplinary programs. As a pioneer in students’ freedom to choose their educational path, Brown also gives students the freedom to choose their food: seven dining facilities, from traditional dining halls to cafes to a student market. Brown is also a leader in sustainability, with composting at all of its dining halls; the Community Harvest program supporting local farmers; and the After the Harvest Program, donating thousands of pounds of unused food to local hunger relief.
Students at Brown get only the best – as should be the case in the Ivy League. Two all-you-can-eat dining halls, the Verne-Wooley (V-Dub to students) and the Sharpe Refectory (known as Ratty), provided everything from a fresh in-house butcher and bakery to locally-grown produce. Smaller cafes like the Blue Room, and the late-night Campus Market (with a real-milk milkshake machine and gluten-free treats), keep students going through the day, while the Ivy Room gives faculty and staff a getaway – as well as a vegetarian restaurant by night. Brown is Rhode Island’s first Green Restaurant Association Certified location as well, with nearly 100% reduction in plastic water bottles, trayless dining, and reusable to-go containers.
College of the Holy Cross
New England’s oldest Catholic college, and the #2 school in our 2018 ranking of the Best Catholic Colleges & Universities, College of the Holy Cross is known for its academic rigor in the Jesuit tradition, but also for the highest level of student support. From its pioneering First-Year Program, which replaced conventional general ed courses with interdisciplinary, self-chosen seminars, to its controversial support of social justice and liberation theology, Holy Cross has made its reputation on changing education and society for the better. That commitment even extends to dinner, and a student dining program that has been recognized by Bon Appetit magazine as one of the healthiest dining halls in the nation.
A national model of sustainability and service, Holy Cross’ dining program was one of the first to establish an allergy-sensitive kitchen, and one of the first to incorporate an organic campus garden into its service. Led by Executive Chef Ed Rome, Holy Cross offers a fully renovated Main Dining Room, as well as 8 other on-campus locations such as The Pub (a tap bar for students), Cool Beans (a coffee shop) and On the Rock (an ice cream shop). Holy Cross is also part of the Menus of Change initiative, a program led by Harvard’s Chan School of Public Health and the Culinary Institutes of America to revolutionize campus dining for health and wellness. For students at Holy Cross, food is the fuel for success, and Holy Cross makes it the best food possible.
Northwestern University is one of the world’s foremost private research institutions, and one of the 10 wealthiest universities in the US by endowment, so it should be no wonder that Northwestern is known for its exceptional student support and amenities. In many ways Northwestern is a traditional, elite university, with nearly 40% participation in Greek Life and widely-known community service efforts like the annual Dance Marathon. At the same time, Northwestern is always ahead of the curve in offering students the best, most current amenities including some of the best dining in higher education.
While Chicago may be known for deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, Northwestern’s dining experience has mastered high quality and healthy right alongside the fare college students call their own. Northwestern partners with numerous local farmers to meet its commitment of sourcing more than 20% of its food locally, while also making sustainability one of its highest priorities. The university dietician is known by name and accessible regularly to students, monitoring all of Northwestern’s six dining halls for health and wellness. Northwestern even hosted Beard Award-winning chef Jimmy Bannos, Jr, who provided his original recipes to the university, and Northwestern’s state-of-the-art teaching kitchen opens in fall 2018. Northwestern makes sure its top-tier students get top-tier dining their whole college career.
Washington University in St Louis
Founded in 1854, Washington University is a deep and proud part of life in St. Louis, MO, committed to service and engagement with the community. When the university was founded, the Midwest offered few opportunities for higher education, and WashU began with night classes in various locations throughout the city. From a humble start, Washington became one of the most prominent private universities in the Midwest, and today is ranked one of the top undergraduate educators in the nation. Washington University’s success has come from investing in its students with the highest level of academic quality and support, as well as investing in St. Louis and its people.
WashU’s dedication to St. Louis and Missouri in general extends even to its dining, with numerous initiatives to support local farmers and practice responsible, sustainable waste. Produce, dairy, beverages, and other ingredients are supplied by more than 25 farmers in the region, from hormone and antibiotic-free animals. WashU also recycles cooking oil for biofuel, which fuels campus trucks, while dining halls use recyclable, compostable, and reusable dishes and utensils. The Bear Balance Movement emphasizes wellness as part of the Partnership for a Healthier America, but that doesn’t mean meals are boring – there is no shortage of haute cuisine, brick-oven pizzas, burgers and fries, or anything else students could want to indulge in.
Wheaton College (IL)
One of the most respected and highest-ranked Christian colleges in America, Wheaton College dates back to 1860, when it was founded by staunch abolitionists who used the campus as a safe haven on the Underground Railroad. Wheaton’s mission has always been dedicated to doing good and making a difference in the lives of its students and the community. In fact, Wheaton has not only been ranked one of the top undergraduate educators in the US; it’s been named a College that Changes Lives. Wheaton emphasizes both education and character development, and its deep sense of faith and Christian belief has, from the beginning, been directly tied to action, whether rescuing escaped slaves or protecting the environment.
Wheaton has earned a reputation as one of the best college dining experiences honestly, by focusing on providing the best for its students, and improving the community as well. With two dining halls and two cafes, students have access to all sorts of options, from fresh-roasted turkey and beef for deli sandwiches, to the Vegan Station and a special True Balance allergy-free station. Students can even make their own stir-fry and pizzas. Produce and other ingredients are responsibly sourced from local farmers whenever possible, and dining facilities are actively in low-waste, carbon footprint-lowering practices.
Franklin and Marshall College
Named for Benjamin Franklin – who gifted funds to found the college – and Chief Justice John Marshall, Franklin and Marshall College was built on Enlightenment principles and a profound belief in the relationship between learning and democracy. Throughout its existence, Franklin and Marshall has emphasized educational excellence alongside outreach to the community, through programs such as F&M College Prep, which welcomes local high school students to learn about the college experience. F&M is also known throughout the northeast for its exceptional student life, providing more than 2000 students with a strong sense of community and tight network of connections. Dining certainly plays a role in that process.
Franklin & Marshall may be small, but its dining options are a global affair. The all-you-can-eat dining options include The Restaurants at Franklin and KIVO, a unique, fully kosher dining hall. Smaller restaurants around the college offer deli, grill, and breakfast. F&M especially distinguishes itself with its commitment to diversity and sustainability. Much of F&M’s produce and dairy are locally sourced, and don’t forget – F&M is located in Pennsylvania’s Lancaster County, the farming capital of the Northeast. That means some top-notch fresh food for F&M’s Diplomats. Fair-trade sourcing, composting, biodegradable materials, and more make F&M dining as good for the earth as for students’ appetites.
“Occidental” simply means “western,” and Occidental College is definitively western – from its location in Los Angeles, CA, to its outlook, rooted in the places and people that make up California. Founded in 1887 by the Presbyterian Church, Occidental’s Eagle Rock campus was designed by Myron Hunt, the California architect whose influence set the style for California’s landmarks. Occidental (or Oxy to students and alumni) is well known for its engagement with Los Angeles and the surrounding communities, having earned Carnegie Foundation Community Engagement Classification and recognition from the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll. It’s one of the most economically and racially diverse liberal arts colleges in the nation, dedicated to giving every student the best.
Occidental is very California in its dining, and in its attention to community and environment. The college is proud of its Oxy’s Own Dining – rather than hire out its food services to big companies, Occidental is fully self-sustaining, creating its food within the Oxy community for its own benefit. That means local and organic products, local food trucks for special events, and fun community events like the Chef Showcase and Oxy Iron Chef. It also means that sustainable practices are standard, not special, in all of Occidental’s dining halls and cafes. Events like Food Justice Week and Public Health Week remind students of their responsibilities – responsibilities that Occidental is founded on.
Rhode Island School of Design
One of the most respected and influential art and design schools in the world, the Rhode Island School of Design – better known as RISD – dates back to the 1876 Centennial Exposition, where a Women’s Pavilion highlighted the accomplishments of women in literature, art, and industrial design. That pavilion was the immediate inspiration for the formation of RISD, which was founded to be the most modern, most innovative, and most productive school of its kind. From this revolutionary beginning, RISD has earned an international reputation for excellence in all areas of art and design. Just as importantly, RISD has become a watchword for the kind of creative, motivating student culture that every art and design school aspires to – and its dining is no exception.
Community is the center of RISD’s dining experience, from its major dining hall, The Met, to several small cafes that provide students with a relaxing third place. That means fresh, healthy ingredients and options for everyone, with initiatives like the annual 100 Mile Dinner, with all ingredients sourced from no more than 100 miles away. It also means taking care of students’ health and well-being, from allergy-free meals and handling, to specialized vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free menus for students with dietary needs. And RISD specializes in sustainability, reducing waste and increasing recycling – with help from RISD’s design students, who work to raise awareness on and off-campus.
Dating back to 1831, Denison University is Ohio’s second-oldest liberal arts college, making it one of the oldest colleges in the Midwest. Originally a Baptist college, Denison developed into one of the most trusted and engaged private liberal arts colleges in the state, maintaining its small size, strong student support, and deeply invested sense of community even today. As it closes in on its second century, Denison is ranked in the top 50 National Liberal Arts Colleges for 2018 by College Consensus, and is known throughout the Midwest for its strong campus culture, with more than 200 student organizations and nearly two dozen Greek organizations – all with just over 2000 students.
Denison makes student dining a central part of campus life, and has invested well in making their student dining experience a model. Two dining halls serve students with fresh, healthy foods – nearly 40% locally sourced in every meal. Huffman Cafe has been recently renovated as a top-of-the-line dining hall, with fresh pizzas, a fresh bakery, and even a Mongolian grill, while the after-hours hangout The Nest, serving sandwiches and convenience food, has also been renovated. Students benefit from aggressive health initiatives, ensuring that all meals served at Huffman and Curtis are made with the best possible ingredients, while keeping sustainability and waste-reduction at a priority.
Tufts University is one of the highest-ranked and most respected colleges in Massachusetts, the world center for elite universities. Founded in 1852 by the Universalist Church, Tufts got its name from Charles Tufts, a farmer who donated 20 acres of unusable land at the top of a hill, but it got its reputation from more than a century and a half of excellence. Often called a New Ivy, Tufts is ranked among the top national universities, but it is also known for its unusual admissions; one of the most selective universities (accepting less than 15% of applicants), Tufts was among the first to recognize creativity as an admissions qualification – all part of its commitment to finding the very best students of all kinds, and helping them attain their dreams.
As a university that values creativity in its students, Tufts is also a university that values creativity in its student life – even its student dining. With 12 different areas for eating, Tufts gives students one of the widest varieties of any college, from sushi to organic smoothies to a full kosher deli. Tufts dining also strives to live up to their motto, “Think Globally, Buy Locally,” sourcing their ingredients from vendors within 250 miles. The university has a commitment to sustainable, fair-trade, and organic food, from coffee to meat, and also meets the needs of vegan and other specialty diets. It’s not every college that can stand up to Tufts, a model for the best college food.
Regularly ranked among the top regional colleges in the South by publishers like U.S. News and the Princeton Review, Rollins College is Florida’s oldest college. Founded in 1885 by the Congregationalist Church – a denomination known for founding some of the most prestigious universities in the nation – Rollins was built on the dedication to academic rigor and excellence as fellow New England Congregationalist colleges. With a tight-knit student body of just over 3000, Rollins is known for their active and engaged student life, held together with unique traditions such as Fox Day (since 1956, the statue of a fox is placed on the courtyard by the college president on a spring day too nice for class, signalling a surprise holiday).
With community at the center of Rollins’ student life, some of the best college food is always on the menu. Rollins offers some of the best college dining halls in Florida, with six different places for students to eat. The Marketplace, the campus’ main dining hall, provides a variety of options, while Dave’s Boathouse is a pub-style restaurant decorated in a nautical theme; fresh beer on tap and handmade sushi are just some of the options. Of course, being located in Florida, Rollins has no shortage of fresh seafood, all of which is certified sustainable, with no at-risk species served. Students can even meet with the dietician for allergy and intolerance concerns, or take a cooking class with the university chef.
Named for signer of the Constitution and Governor of Pennsylvania, John Dickinson, and his wife Mary Norris, Dickinson College is as historic as they come, standing as the first college chartered in the new United States. At the same time, Dickinson is as current and modern as can be, known for its commitment to sustainability (having earned the Climate Leadership Award from Second Nature), the highest grade from the Sustainable Endowments Institute, and “Cool School” ranking from the Sierra Club. With recognition as one of the top undergraduate educators in the nation, and a close student body of around 2400, student life at Dickinson, including dining, is all part of the philosophy.
Seeing as Dickinson’s claim to fame, in the 21st century, is environmental sustainability, it should come as no surprise that it has one of the best college dining halls for waste-free eating. Tray-free, students take only what they can carry, and all waste is composted – all. Dickinson uses its own farm to supply organic, sustainable vegetables and fruit, while the KOVE offers fully kosher meals for students keeping it real. Students can also learn about responsible cooking and even old-fashioned food preservation at the Dickinson College Farm. Plus, mobile ordering from The Quarry and Union Station bring students the best college food, right to their dorm room (and even so, Dickinson is ranked one of the most physically fit colleges in the US).
St Olaf College
One of the top-ranked liberal arts colleges in the Midwest, St. Olaf University is deeply rooted in the community of Northfield, and Minnesota in general. Founded in 1874, St. Olaf was built from the ground up by a group of Norwegian settlers and Lutheran church leaders to bring higher education opportunities to the children of Norwegian immigrants. From that humble, grass-roots beginning, St. Olaf has grown into a highly respected regional liberal arts college, with more than 3000 students and recognition as one of the best undergraduate educators in the nation. It’s also known for a much-loved, highly engaged campus life.
Named for the Norwegian patron saint, St. Olaf is as Midwestern as can be, but that doesn’t mean lutefisk every meal. In fact, St. Olaf has been recognized for some of the best college food in America, all due to the university’s commitment to fresh, local foods and top-notch offerings. St. Olaf buys nearly a quarter of all its foods from local sources, from turkey and eggs to veggies and seafood, and some even comes from the St. Olaf Garden Research and Organic Works, the university’s own student-run organic garden. The Stav Dining Hall, one of the best college dining halls in the US, offers more than 70 different, fresh-made entrees every week, including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free meals. St. Olaf even composts hundreds of tons of food waste for use on the campus grounds, making St. Olaf not only one of the best campus dining, but a conscientious one.
James Madison University
One of Virginia’s most respected and prestigious public research universities, James Madison University began in 1909 as the state’s teacher training school for women. More than a century later, however, JMU has earned its reputation for excellence, ranking as a top 10 regional university by U.S. News & World Report, and a top college for social mobility and service. JMU’s student body is more than 22,00 strong, but even so, the university is selective by the standards of a public institution, and is known for offering students the kind of support and opportunity as an elite private research university. In addition, JMU has earned national attention for its campus life, including some of the best college food in the US.
With such a large student body, JMU’s dining could easily be bland and industrialized, but instead, JMU has put together some of the best college dining halls anywhere. Three dining halls, a half-dozen restaurants, and numerous coffee shops and convenience stores (including Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks) help make JMU’s campus its own little town. Students have no end of variety, but JMU has also made health, wellness, and sustainability core elements of their dining experience. JMU participates in the Green thread platform, focusing on eliminating waste (100% of oil is turned into biodiesel, for instance), sourcing their food responsibly, and giving back to the community. The university makes sure that nearly a quarter of its food is sourced locally, and donates thousands of pounds of unused food to the community yearly.
Tulane University of Louisiana
Quite possibly the Deep South’s most prestigious institution, Tulane University has dominated higher education and culture from the heart of New Orleans for nearly two centuries. Founded in 1834, Tulane was founded as a medical school in an era when most Southern doctors lacked any formal education, but its towering influence goes well beyond medicine. Tulane is firmly rooted in New Orleans and Louisiana, playing a major role in relief after Hurricane Katrina, but it is also one of the most selective schools in the nation, accepting only the best and brightest students from around the US – with an eye toward diversity and opportunity.
It would, of course, be inconceivable if Tulane’s dining was not among the finest – it’s in New Orleans, after all. It goes without saying that some of the best dining halls in the nation offer some of the best college food imaginable, including Louisiana icons like gumbo and red beans and rice. But Tulane does far more, offering students NOLA bucks (vouchers that allow students to eat at some of New Orleans’ most famed restaurants) and on-campus food trucks. Tulane also makes sustainability and fresh food central, with its own farmer’s market where students can use their student cards, and initiatives like reusable containers for takeout.
Located in Allentown, PA, the state’s fastest-growing city (and center of the Lehigh Valley), Muhlenburg College dates back to 1848, when it was founded by the Lutheran church. Originally a small seminary, Muhlenburg became a college when it began offering night classes for adults in 1910. From that commitment to the community, Muhlenburg has developed a reputation for service and outreach, earning recognition for engagement and civic responsibility. In addition, Muhlenburg is ranked one of the top national liberal arts colleges, and one of the best regional institutions in the Northeast. A strong student life and top-notch services include some of the best college food in the region.
Muhlenburg’s Wood Dining Commons has been widely named one of the best college dining halls in America by sources like Niche and the Princeton Review, while many other dining options include a food court, fast-food, and coffee shops. Health is serious for Muhlenburg, with an on-campus dietician available for allergy and dietary consultation, and an emphasis on fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. Muhlenburg has partnerships with organizations Butter Valley Harvest (for hydroponically-grown herbs), Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative, and Common Market of Philadelphia, with other ingredients from local sources.
One of the top-ranked private research universities in the nation, Boston College has been at the center of Boston life for more than a century and a half. A Catholic institution, BC’s original mission was to prepare Catholic leaders for the growing city, beginning with a prep school in 1827 and growing into a small liberal arts college, but Boston College has gone well beyond its origins. BC regularly ranks among the most prestigious colleges in the world, recognized for its Jesuit dedication to academic rigor, and for its world-class research centers in areas ranging from nursing to urban ecology. With an elite student body of nearly 15,000, Boston College is also known for its dedication to student life and community, including some of the best college food in New England.
Boston College’s dining options include some of the best college dining halls a student could hope for, from the main dining hall at McElroy Commons, to small cafes, delis, and several On the Fly locations – small, on-campus convenience stores. Among the college’s many options, The Chocolate Bar offers coffee, specialty drinks, and fresh-made chocolates and pastries. Along with sustainability initiatives that include recycling and food recovery, Boston College’s dining operations are also built around local, environmentally responsible sourcing. The BC Dining Test Kitchen even tries out student recipes and experiments with new foods, while the Fresh to Table program offers educational cooking demos devoted to healthy and responsible foods.
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
The Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University is one of the most respected institutions of its kind, a public research university with the largest research profile in the state of Virginia. Founded in 1872 as Virginia’s land-grant agricultural and mechanical school, Virginia Tech leveraged its original mission to grow into one of the nation’s foremost leaders in engineering and technology. Ranked in the top 25 public universities by U.S. News & World Report (making Virginia one of two states with 3 top-ranked public colleges), Virginia Tech is not only known as a major educators in engineering, computer science, architecture and business; it is also known for an iconic campus, and for a vibrant student life, with nearly 10,000 (out of 32,000) students living on-campus.
With so many students to feed, and a reputation for engineering and technology brilliance, you better believe Virginia Tech has dining figured out. More than 7 and a half million meals a year, nearly 20,000 regular users, and the campus’ largest employer, Virginia Tech Dining Services is a model of efficient, effective goodness. Tech has been named on numerous best college food rankings, not only for the excellence of its operation, but for its amazing eating. From burgers and bakery to vegan and healthy menus, Virginia Tech meets all tastes with fresh, often locally-sourced food. First Lady Michelle Obama even praised VT as the best college food in her 2012 commencement address. Plus, the You’re Eating Smarter (YES) program educates students about healthy eating options – even if they’re picking the bacon cheeseburger, fries, and milkshake at Burger ‘37.
University of Rochester
Founded in 1850, the University of Rochester dates back to an older theology school (opened in 1817) that was also the birthplace of Colgate University. In short, it’s been a part of New York life for more than two centuries, in one way or another, and the University of Rochester is in many ways the heart of New York’s third-largest city. A prestigious private research university, UR is particularly known for its science programs, including engineering, medicine, and optics, as well as for the Eastman School of Music, one of the top-ranked music schools anywhere. It’s an elite set of more than 11,000 students, and Rochester has become known for a highly diverse, highly engaged student body – and for the exceptional services the university provides those students.
The University of Rochester’s dining experience is regularly ranked one of the best college food services in the nation, and for good reason. With a diverse student body, Rochester makes an effort to provide for everyone’s needs; it’s been named one of the most vegan-friendly schools in the US by PETA, and commended for its commitment to local sourcing and sustainability. On the other hand, the University of Rochester is in Rochester, which means one thing to food-lovers: the legendary Garbage Plate – a plate of pretty much anything, in gigantic portions, preferably eaten late at night after some hard partying. A college mainstay for decades, the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity holds an annual charity Garbage Plate Run; the “iron man” competitors run to local Nick Tahou’s restaurant (birthplace of the meal), eat an entire garbage plate, and run back to campus. It’s a test of endurance and intestinal fortitude.
A top-tier private research university ranked in the top 50 national universities by U.S. News, Northeastern University is one of the mainstays of Boston’s many exceptional colleges and universities. Founded in 1898, Northeastern began with night classes held in a Boston YMCA, and even as it has grown into a research giant, Northeastern has maintained its outreach to the community and its dedication to practical, career-ready professional education. Northeastern is best known for its pioneering cooperative education program, in which students combine traditional classroom learning with professionals experience; it’s ranked as the nation’s best internship program, with nearly 100% of students gaining professional work experience during their college career.
Northeastern also has some of the best college dining halls in New England, including the International Village, the first college dining hall with both Green Restaurant 3-star certification and LEED Gold certification. The International Village is the destination for tandoori, sushi, kosher and halal meals, and more; Levine’s Marketplace offers 8 stations of homestyle and foodie cuisine; the Stetson West Eatery has made-to-order stir fry and fresh-made pizzas. Stetson West is also home to the Xhibition Kitchen, a state of the art Food Network-style kitchen which hosts world-renowned chefs for cooking demonstrations – filmed with overhead cameras and projected for a classroom of spectators. It’s some of the best college food, and one of the most entertaining experiences in campus dining.
University of Connecticut
Named as a Public Ivy (in the land of the Ivy League), the University of Connecticut is a top-tier public research university known as the core of the New England Knowledge Corridor. Founded in 1881 as Connecticut’s land-grant institution, the university first known as Storrs Agricultural School has become respected and highly ranked in areas ranging from bioengineering and natural resources to law and medicine – especially through UConn Health, one of the region’s top academic healthcare systems. UConn is regularly ranked as a top 20 national public university, and has been particularly recognized as one of the colleges most committed to sustainability and environmental responsibility – qualities that feature in its student life, especially dining.
UConn is a large school, with well over 26,000 students, but it’s also a university steeped in agriculture and environmental education, so UConn student dining is focused on both quality, and responsibility. With its extensive agricultural programs, UConn offers students everything from the UConn Dairy Bar and Ice Cream Truck – with ice cream made from UConn’s own milk cows – to honey from their own bees – not to mention eggs, organic produce, and herbs from their student-run gardens. UConn also supports numerous local producers, making it the single largest consumer of Connecticut-grown produce. And all of the goodness of one of New England’s best college food experiences is done sustainably, including waste reduction and composting.
Make no mistake – it may be called Miami, but Miami University is rooted as deeply in Ohio as possible. Founded in 1809 in the Miami Valley (named for the Miami people, the Great Lakes tribe that lived in the region), Miami University was part of the grand plans for the first pioneer region, though lack of funding kept it from opening until 1824. Miami is one of the 10 oldest public research universities in the US, and a crucial part of economic and professional life in western Ohio. One of the original Public Ivies, Miami is also known for one of the most beloved college towns in America (Oxford, OH), and one of the most beautiful campuses in the country.
With more than 20,000 students and faculty to feed, Miami University has developed one of the best college food experiences in America, and earned national attention for it, too. Eleven locations, from one of the best college dining halls to convenience stores and cafes, give Miami students just about any kind of dining experience they could want. Bell Tower Place offers an all-you-can-eat buffet-style dining hall and market, while the Armstrong Student Center includes themed restaurants: bagels, pizza, ice cream, and the Pulley Diner, a 50’s-style diner. Plus, around a quarter of Miami’s ingredients are locally sourced, and the university promotes local farming with initiatives like the annual Farm-to-Fork dinner.
University of Massachusetts-Amherst
One of the foremost public research universities in the nation, the University of Massachusetts Amherst has long been the model of public higher education excellence in the midst of New England’s elite Ivy League and liberal arts colleges. Founded in 1863, UMass was one of the first colleges started under the Morrill Land Grant Act, originally as an agricultural school. Throughout the next century, though, with a shortage of public higher education options in the area, UMass grew into a powerhouse, with nationally-ranked programs in everything from healthcare and business to computer science and engineering. UMass is also known as a leader in sustainability, a status that directly impacts UMass Dining.
As New England’s largest public university, with more than 30,000 students, UMass has built an award-winning campus dining system. Everywhere they turn, students have healthy, accessible, and fun eating options, some of the best college food anywhere: four dining halls, 18 cafes, food trucks, bakery, and more. UMass’ four values are Health, World Flavors, Sustainability, and Community, and every aspect of dining is dedicated to living out those values, from locally-sourced produce and sustainable seafood to UMass Permaculture (converting lawns to gardens) and Student Farms. Kosher and halal options, allergy protections, and vegan and gluten-free options make every student feel welcome, no matter where they call home.