Tips & Tricks to Survive University Meal Hall

This past school year, my first in university, jump started my desire to feed myself properly. Until moving across the country, I had never considered what it took to eat a balanced meal. Sure, sometimes I would have to cook for myself but there was always someone around (my mom) to make sure I got enough nutrients at the end of the day.

My school boasts that it offers “tasty and varied menus”, something I would say is a flat out lie. Even without my dietary restrictions, varied isn’t a word I would put anywhere near what Sodexo serves and tasty is subjective.

Their many versions of the potato were certainly tasty (and I did learn this year that I can survive off just potatoes and milk alone), but they didn’t always do a lot to contribute to a healthy meal.

Some of this is on me. I’m a vegetarian who eats vegan as often as possible. However, it quickly became apparent to everyone I knew that we were going to have to get creative if we wanted a balanced diet. Or if we wanted to have meals that varied day to day.

People eat in meal hall because they have to and for the social aspect, they don’t do it for the great food.

7 tips for eating in meal hall


ONE – keep up your foodthusiasm

I love food. My enthusiasm for food isn’t just limited to gourmet meals or desserts, it extends to meal hall food. For the months leading up to September, I had it in my head that meal hall was going to be great. For eight months, someone else was going to cook and clean for me. I wouldn’t have to wash a single plate. So I kept giving it my enthusiasm. Sure, today’s meal wasn’t awesome but tomorrow’s would be great, wouldn’t it?

One by one, my friends dropped like flies. Complaining about meal hall became a common activity. Everyone hated the food. For whatever reason, I would defend meal hall and give it a second chance. For the first two months, the food really wasn’t that bad. Sure, there were some days that completely sucked, but find something positive about what you’re eating. It makes everything more bearable.

TWO – plan ahead

Someone else is in control of the menu for the whole time you eat in meal hall. You have little to no say over what you’re going to eat at every meal and that sucks. If your school’s like mine though, it’ll post the menu for the week online (if it’s really like mine, sometimes the menu will be completely blank and you’ll be left to guess). Look at this menu when you’re planning out your week.

I didn’t have enough meals on my meal plan to eat three times a day at school, so I’d supplement with some food easily prepared in my dorm room. Which meal would I choose to supplement? Whatever appealed to me the least on the menu. Instead of showing up, swiping my meal card, and realizing that I hated or couldn’t eat anything they had planned that day, I would just know that Thursday’s lunch would be made at home instead. Eating in meal hall three times a day is a surefire way to make you sick of the food fast. Trust me, no one should be there that often.

THREE – get creative

Meal hall at my school is all-you-can-eat. Swipe your meal card and you’re in for the meal period. There is nothing that can stop you from going back for thirds of whatever hot meal they made that day. You could even eat five helpings of dessert or only dessert if you wanted to (and believe me, that option was tempting – dessert was always the best thing they made).
As someone with dietary restrictions, I often found myself having to prepare my own food. Except without access to a full kitchen, my prep options were limited.
By no means did this experience turn me into a master chef. I can still barely feed myself, but I did learn to get creative.
Take a look around meal hall and see what else there is. Do you have a toaster oven, pita bread, toppings, and something that could pass for tomato sauce? You’ve got yourself a pizza. Do you have some fresh veggies from a salad or sandwich bar? Throw a fun bagel together. Look around and figure out what you can prepare yourself.

FOUR – supplement your nutrition

Chances are, you’re not getting all the vitamins you need. About half way through the year, I realized I wasn’t. It didn’t matter that I was making more health conscious decisions, meal hall just couldn’t offer me what I needed. A quick trip to the corner store and I got some supplements to help me out. I don’t feel comfortable telling you which supplements you should include in your diet but multivitamins are pretty standard. Here’s a pretty good article from her campus to help you out!

FIVE – befriend the people who give you food

If you read my first post, you might notice a trend. I’m big on befriending the people you see every day. Even just learning the name of the girl who serves you breakfast every morning is a nice gesture. If you have a chance to strike up a conversation, do it! These people are in control of what you eat on the daily, it can’t hurt to show them you care!

Wayne knew exactly what I wanted for breakfast every morning, and sometimes he’d even have to prepared for me before I even had to ask. I may not have become best friends with the guy, but it was nice to know the person who makes sure I’m fed.

SIX – get in, and get out

If you also have an all-you-can-eat meal hall, and you have no self control, don’t stay any longer than you have to. First semester I loved the social aspect of meal hall so much, I would hang out in there and spend hours chatting with my friends while snacking on food. Not only did I quickly gain the freshman fifteen, but I ended up wasting chunks of my time every day.

Talking to your friends is important and so is eating, but staying in meal hall isn’t the best way to accomplish both tasks. Second semester, I started limiting my time in meal hall and making an effort to plan activities with my friends instead. By the end of the first month, I noticed improvements in my mood and I didn’t suddenly stop developing relationships or miss something crucial. The world kept spinning, even when I didn’t see all my friends in meal hall constantly.

SEVEN – treat yo’ self

I think Tom Haverford can teach us a lot about life. I think one of his more important lessons is the importance of taking care of you. Have a Treat Yo’ Self day every once in awhile, especially in relation to meal hall. Remember how you planned ahead and figured out you’re going to hate the food Thursday night? Instead of making yourself a PB&J sandwich in your room, go out to eat. Or make yourself something super special to eat. Whatever’s going to help you.

treat yo self parks and rec

Going out to eat doesn’t mean go somewhere that’s going to cost you an arm and a leg. It can mean you go to a fast food restaurant, or maybe somewhere a little healthier. Just leave campus for a bit and explore the city you’re living in. Maybe go to a little diner you find on a side street, or your favourite coffee shop that serves amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. Meal hall is going to drain you, it’s important to find something to balance the suck.


Do you have any tips for surviving meal hall? Share them in the comments below!

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