The Best and Worst Secrets of College Campus Dining

The Best and Worst Secrets of College Campus Dining
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The Best and Worst Secrets of College Campus Dining

Is there truth behind the Freshman 15? And how many servings of fruit and vegetables are students really eating? Discover the best and worst secrets about college campus dining.

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According to the Journal Sentinel, a national trends report shows that breakfast is the least popular meal for students and many students opt for a fourth meal after 7 p.m. Universities are catering to these schedules by keeping dining facilities open for most of the day and by offering more late-night options.

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Dubbed the Freshman 15, the weight gain phenomenon that occurs during the first year of college really does happen, although fifteen might be a stretch. According to a 2008 study in the journal Eating Behaviors, female college students gained on average seven pounds after their first year.

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A study published in the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior found that college students were not eating even one serving of fruits and vegetables per day, far below the recommended five servings per day.

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A New York Times article reports that the trend of going trayless in college cafeterias reduces food waste. Removing trays prevents students from grabbing more food than they'll eat. A manager of Sodexo, a national food service company at Concordia University, WI, says implementing the policy has saved about 200 pounds of food every day. Another manager at a dining hall at Rochester Institute of Technology admits that the change has helped her lose ten pounds.

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Many colleges require meal plans, which are pre-paid accounts to buy food on campus. Some meal plans offer a certain number of meals per week, and others provide a certain amount of dining credit. Whether or not meal plans save money is a popular question. While they are a reasonably-priced food option, leftover meals can waste money.

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School cafeterias have gotten failing Health Department letter grades for cleanliness. The New York Times reports that in March 2011 three food outlets at one eastern school received C’s, the lowest grade, for violations like live roaches, evidence of mice and improper food storage. The infractions were quickly corrected, and later re-inspections have earned A grades.

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In the same month, the main cafeteria at a university in NYC closed for racking up 79 violation points, in a city where at least 27 points results in a C grade. About 90 percent of the school’s students had been using the cafeteria. After a student boycott and student-administrator meetings, the cafeteria reopened with improvements.

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Last summer, one college student and two staff members at a college in IL discovered roaches in their coffee after purchasing the drinks from a college cafeteria vending machine. All three individuals had taken a sip before noticing the roaches in the cup.

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Virginia Tech features the Farm & Fields Project, which provides local, sustainable and organic food to the school’s dining services. Students can volunteer at the Dining Services Garden, which supplies fruits, vegetables and herbs for the school’s cafeterias. The school serves meat purchased from their Meat Science Center, and earlier this year Virginia Tech started serving milk produced on campus at the Dairy Science Department’s Dairy Barn.

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NPR reports that Virginia Tech cooks pizza over hickory wood that the university split itself. Chefs on campus labored over their gumbo recipe for three months to match up to authentic gumbo from New Orleans.

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The blog Bowdoin Gourmet showcases some of the best fare from Bowdoin College, a small school in Maine that has repeatedly ranked number one for best campus food from the Princeton Review. The most recent entry features spicy black bean cake topped with ginger ketchup on a bed of fresh, locally-grown greens.

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Oakwood University at Huntsville, AL is home to the only meat-free college campus in Alabama. According to the student handbook, “a vegetarian lifestyle is encouraged” and “flesh or meat products or any unhealthy foodstuff (i.e., products with caffeine, etc.) in any form will not be served on campus.”

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College cafeterias once carried a reputation for serving mystery meat and unappealing eats, but a new generation of college students are demanding trendy, upscale dining options with healthy, gourmet food.

Colleges are stepping up their game by adding restaurant chefs and nutrition experts to their payroll and updating cafeterias into a restaurant-style dining experience. Menus have evolved to include cuisine from around the world and the latest food trends, and many eateries now have stations that prepare custom-made dishes to accommodate a student's special dietary needs.

But, are college students taking advantage of their salad bar and the expanded healthy offerings? And, did you know one college has even gone so far as to supply their own meat (processed at its Meat Science Center on campus) to its dining hall?

Check out the slideshow above to discover the best and worst secrets of college campus dining.

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