50 Best College Cafeterias

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What college dining halls have the best food? This might not be the most important question high schoolers should be asking when putting together their application lists, but it’s not a trivial concern, either! Everyone has to eat, and active, growing college students are definitely no exception! Realizing that campus food will form the majority of their diet for the next four years, it’s worth considering what that will look like – from the variety of options available, to nutrition content, to accommodating dietary restrictions (due to allergies, religious customs, moral/ethical concerns, etc.).

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The 50 Colleges with the Best Food Ranking Methodology

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, taste is in the mouth of the diner. In other words, determining an objective measure of the “best” food for college students would be nearly impossible. Some think taste and variety are the most important factors, while others place a premium on nutrition content or sustainability. Still others emphasize participation in food-related events or wellness programs.

In the end, we decided that all of these factors are important – and more! Therefore, we built one comprehensive ranking by combining the results of five other studies on college dining halls all across the country:

  • Niche: focused primarily on student surveys of campus dining. Average meal plan cost also played a minor role.
  • The Princeton Review: based entirely on student responses to the survey question “How do you rate the food on campus?”
  • College Rank: looked at factors such as versatility, nutrition and wellness, sustainability,
    and accessibility (accommodations for special diets).
  • The Daily Meal: focused on accessibility and quality of service, educational efforts, and food-centered events. It also took into account the quality of off-campus dining and “x-factor” characteristics.
  • The Best Colleges: determined quality based on sustainability efforts (innovative sourcing, waste reduction, etc.) and awards earned.

Taken together, the scores that each college received from the websites above accounted for 84% of our total ranking. We allocated the remaining 16% to measure affordability, which we calculated by looking at each college’s net price. We obtained net price figures, which combine tuition rates and fees/other expenses (e.g. cost of living) with average financial aid, from the National Center for Education Statistics.

After crunching the numbers, we came up with our final ranking of the 50 best college dining halls.


Top 10 Ranking Cafeterias

Rank School Location
1 Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME
2 Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University Blacksburg, VA
3 University of California-Los Angeles Los Angeles, CA
4 James Madison University Harrisonburg, VA
5 Cornell University Ithaca, NY
6 University of Massachusetts-Amherst Amherst, MA
7 Vanderbilt University Nashville, TN
8 Washington University in St Louis Saint Louis, MO
9 Kennesaw State University Kennesaw, GA
10 Bates College Lewiston, ME
  1. Bowdoin College
    Location

    Brunswick, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    It should come as little surprise that Bowdoin College tops our ranking of the best college dining halls. Publications such as Restaurants and Institutions Magazine, The Princeton Review, and HerCampus.com have all praised Bowdoin's commitment to healthy, delicious food. Part of the school's claim to fame is due to its focus on sustainability; it features an "in-house meat shop" with "local, grass-fed beef," and many of the dining halls' fruits and vegetables come from an on-campus organic garden. What's more, Bowdoin shows sensitivity to special diets by placing allergen labels next to all food items and providing both vegan and gluten-free options at every meal.

  2. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
    Location

    Blacksburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Choice is a key part of the dining experience at Virginia Tech University. The school supports about a dozen different dining centers on campus, from traditional cafeterias to food courts featuring popular chain restaurants. VT Dining Services also owns two food trucks, both of which "steer clear of a predictable menu" and park at various campus hot spots throughout the day to meet the needs of hungry Hokies. And like most colleges with the best food, Virginia Tech places a strong emphasis on sustainability. Most notably, the Farms and Fields Project (located in one of the food courts), serves up exclusively local, sustainable, and organic dishes.

  3. University of California-Los Angeles
    Location

    Los Angeles, CA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Few universities go to the lengths that UCLA does to keep its students well-fed. For starters, the university's four "residential restaurants" (located in the undergrad dorm complexes), give Bruins easy access to healthy, culturally-diverse cuisine. And yet, students who don't want to take a trip downstairs can simply pick up their phone and order pizza or wings from MyPizza, the university's exclusive online food delivery service. As if that weren't enough, UCLA's quick-service restaurants provide the best food for college students on the go. This includes two combination eateries/coffee bars that stay open until 2am to satisfy late night cravings.

  4. James Madison University
    Location

    Harrisonburg, VA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With 28 on-campus dining options, the only food-related complaint JMU students are likely to make is that they can't decide where to eat! One of the most striking features of the university's dining profile is the number of chain restaurants it features, from Chick-Fil-A and Dunkin' Donuts to Starbucks and Subway. Or for a more traditional meal, Dukes can head to E-Hall, which features made-to-order omelets, an "authentic Tandoori oven," and plenty of options for vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free diets. Lastly, those seeking to maximize their intake of healthy college food should check out the Fueled Food Truck. This mobile restaurant aims to bring nutritious, locally-sourced food to campus (in the form of delicious Asian fusion cuisine, no less!).

  5. Cornell University
    Location

    Ithaca, NY

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    If it weren't for its higher-than-average net cost (which is more expensive than 80% of the schools featured here), Cornell would likely place even higher on our best college food ranking. And yet, the fact that Cornell ranks 5th despite its price tag should testify to the quality of its dining services. Indeed, Cornell students have access to nearly 30 different eateries all across campus. But it's not all about quantity; fortunately, the quality of options is just as impressive. From "All You Care to Eat" dining halls (most of which are housed in residential buildings) to centrally located cafés, food courts, dairy bars, this school's cuisine is consistently top-notch.

  6. University of Massachusetts-Amherst
    Location

    Amherst, MA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    It would be easy to assume that a large public school wouldn't have the resources to maintain one of the best college cafeterias in the nation. And yet, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst does just that. In addition to four traditional dining halls, the campus sports 18 commercial eateries/cafés, two food trucks, a bakery, and a delivery service. Many of these establishments even serve SPE-certified dishes, a true indication of high-quality nutrition - and taste! But what really makes UMass Amherst stand out is its focus on community values. By sourcing fruits, vegetables, and seafood from local vendors year round, the school does more than its fair share to support the New England Food System.

  7. Vanderbilt University
    Location

    Nashville, TN

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    Vanderbilt University understands that college students have some unique eating habits. With such busy schedules, they need access to a variety of quick, convenient, and healthy foods at all hours of the day. Fortunately, that's exactly what Vanderbilt Campus Dining provides. Of the roughly 20 food options on campus, more than a quarter are 24-hour, "grab-and-go" marketplaces stocked with groceries and ready-to-eat sandwiches, salads, and produce. Casual dining establishments - i.e. cafés and bistros - are another mainstay of the school's restaurant profile. But where is the healthiest food for college students at Vanderbilt? That would probably be Grins Vegetarian Café, which features a Kosher-certified kitchen, or Leaf, a "made-to-order concept" that serves up fresh produce every day.

  8. Washington University in St Louis
    Location

    Saint Louis, MO

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    What makes college food good? High quality taste and nutrition, of course, butlocation is also important. After all, a delicious meal is only as useful as its proximity to hungry people! Washington University in St. Louis has mastered this concept with a triad of dining establishments that stretches the full length of its 169-acre campus. At the northern end is The Village, home to casual restaurants like Stir Fry, Old World Deli, and Comfort Food. Journey to the center of campus to find The DUC, one of the most impressive college cafeterias west of the Mississippi. Further south lives the Bear's Den, where students can chow down on authentic international fare from the Mediterranean, Latin America, India, and even Mongolia.

  9. Kennesaw State University
    Location

    Kennesaw, GA

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    At first glance, it might not seem like Kennesaw's Culinary and Hospitality Services are anything to write home about. Indeed, the school's dining profile consists mostly of fast-casual restaurants like Chik-fil-A, Hissho Sushi, and Burrito Bowl. However, KSU also has one of the best college dining halls on the East Coast. This modern cafeteria, known as "The Commons," is the go-to spot for healthy, diverse fare any time of day. Students can even access an interactive online menu that provides detailed nutrition information, with labels about portion size, sustainable ingredients, and vegan/vegetarian options.

  10. Bates College
    Location

    Lewiston, ME

    Tuition

    $$$$$

    With an enrollment of fewer than 2,000 students, Bates College has little need for massive food courts. In fact, hungry students at Bates generally go to one place: Commons. Utilizing a rotating schedule of menus throughout the year, this cafeteria provides some of the best and healthiest food for college students. Breakfast, for example, includes an omelet station and waffle bar seven days a week, plus extra-delicious brunch options every weekend. Later in the day, diners can fill their plates at the traditional "Bobcat Bar" or check out the Pasta, Deli, or Vegan Bar. Grill, Brick Oven, and Bakery stations are also open at every meal!

Thanks for reading our ranking of the 50 colleges with the best food!

Sources:
College Navigator
Huffington Post – The Menu Items Millenials Need in their Campus Dining May Surprise You
Niche Best College Food in America
Princeton Review Best Campus Food
College Rank the 50 Best College Dining Experiences
The Daily Meal – 80 Best Colleges for Food in America
BestColleges.com – Best Dining Halls

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