Campus Dining Trends: Healthy Variety Keeps Students Happy

The days of mystery meat are over. Far from the old-school cafeteria line with divided plates and food scooped by hairnet-wearing matrons, students are enjoying restaurant-style meals on campuses across the country. But that’s not all. Check out some of the hot (and cool) trends hitting college dining halls this year.

Trend 1: More Upscale and More Dietary Options on the Menu

“Students are looking for something a little more upscale than in the past,” says Beth Kretschmar, marketing manager in Cleveland for Bon Appétit Management Company, a national food-service management organization serving universities, museums and corporate clients. “There’s so much more interest in food. I think that can be attributed to network food shows and competitions.” Indian and Vietnamese cuisines are very popular at Case Western Reserve University, where Kretschmar’s company operates cafés. A new student center café will even include a tandoor oven.

“We’re seeing more emphasis on non-animal proteins, vegetarian and vegan diets,” says Bill Masullo, general manager of campus dining services at Linfield College in McMinnville, OR. Chris Vizzina, general manager of campus dining at Samford University in Birmingham, AL, agrees, adding, “We have more need for slow food, healthy options and gluten-free items.” Slow food is a movement that began in Italy in the mid-1980s, promoting a focus on preserving traditional and regional cuisine and encouraging farming characteristic of local eco-systems.

Trend 2: The Food Court Goes to College

Incorporating staffed and buffet stations in the collegiate dining room creates a food court feel and provides a venue for showcasing a variety of cuisines and specific dietary needs:

  • Grazing Station: Linfield’s grazing station provides vegan students with 5 to 6 self-serve items, such as hummus, pita and composed salads.
  • Pizza Station: Samford offers a daily pizza special that features seasonal fresh produce.
  • Salad Bar: Fresh produce, prepared salads and both animal and non-animal proteins support healthy, vegetarian and vegan diets.
  • Pasta Bar: Plain or filled pastas with a choice of sauces provide options for a variety of carb-craving diners.
  • Stir-Fry: The Asian stir-fry concept provides ethnic flavor (Thai, Vietnamese, Korean or Chinese) in an easily customizable format.
  • Grill: Burgers, fries and chicken strips are a must. “We are on a college campus, after all,” says Vizzina.

Trend 3: Specialized Equipment Required

At Linfield, the dining hall underwent a major renovation last year to upgrade the facilities and cooking stations. “Our chef was handcuffed with the existing equipment,” says Masullo. “It impacted his ability to respond to the demand of the students who wanted a more sophisticated experience.” Different menus require different equipment to support execution. Items to consider:

  • Pasta Cooker: Plumbed with a water source, pasta cookers provide cooking, holding and reheating capabilities.
  • Woks: High heat and minimal oil makes stir-frying a quick and healthy cooking method.
  • Induction Burners: Faster and more energy-efficient than traditional cooktops, induction burners provide instant temperature control, making them ideal for speedy cooking. Check with the manufacturer to ensure your cookware is suited to induction cooking.
  • Deep Fryer: A must-have for fries and chicken strips. Maintaining oil temperature is critical to quality results, so consider cooking volumes when choosing fryer size.
  • Flat Top: A workhorse in the kitchen, this versatile cooking surface supports eggs and pancakes at breakfast, grilled sandwiches at lunch and steaks for dinner.
  • Rice Cookers: Specially calibrated for perfectly prepared rice, institutional cookers easily and efficiently produce it in high volume.
  • Kitchen Tools: Make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job with slotted and serving spoons, tongs, spatulas and rice paddles.

Trend 4: Restaurant-Style Dinner & Tableware Debuts

The Linfield remodel also included new dinnerware. “If it looks good, it’s going to taste good,” says Masullo. He opted for sleek, restaurant-style white china, from dramatic wide-rimmed bowls to rectangular plates.

“Vessels for food display are always changing,” says Kretschmar. “Presentation can make it more appealing — an innovative vessel can really add a ‘wow’ factor.” Her company uses a variety of elements to up the appearance ante. Hot foods are displayed in high-end cookware, while cold dishes are presented in ceramic bowls in a variety of shapes and sizes.

Trend 5: Nutritional & Producer Information Provided

Hand in hand with the demand for healthy options is an interest in nutritional information and food sourcing.

Linfield added digital signage displaying daily menus and nutritional information. Vizzina posts printed menus at the entrance to all Samford dining venues and includes fat and calorie counts at each station. He uses icons to identify gluten-free, vegan or vegetarian menu items.

Students also want to know where their food is coming from. “Our farm-to-fork program started nationally in 1999,” says Kretschmar. “As a standard, we do a minimum of 20 percent of our purchases within 150 miles of our cafés.” At Samford, Vizzina writes menus weekly to take advantage of the best local products while in season. Cooks at Linfield, Samford and Case Western prepare food from scratch to ensure the best quality.

College dining is all grown up. No more frozen food dumped in a sheet pan and cooked in a commercial toaster oven. Students expect high flavor and fresh food, and collegiate food service directors are stepping up to the plate to deliver.

Anne Nisbet has spent her career working with chefs in restaurants, catering and culinary event production, absorbing their tips, tricks and tales along the way. She is the culinary director for the International Pinot Noir Celebration in McMinnville, OR, where she lives and dreams of someday raising chickens and honeybees. You can find her at Google+.

Related Articles

Related Products & Services

blog comments powered by Disqus
Deals! Get them now

Join us on: