Half way through the semester, you must know your school’s dining hall pretty well, huh? You’ve tried (or carefully avoided) every dish they could possibly throw at you, and there are no more new options on the horizon. The salad station will always be the same; the title on the sign to mark the home cooking area should include air quotes; and the vegetarian section is so full of grease, they might as well call it soup. After you’ve just had a hard day of back-to-back classes with a few hours of work and library time mixed in, all you are craving is a nice meal, right? Well with a little creativity, this dream is within reach.
The biggest concept to creating a dinner masterpiece is to understand that each of the stations in the cafeteria may be separated, but the foods can be mixed. Let’s start with a healthy appetizer: the salad. First, evaluate your options. Don’t forget to check out every section. Taking some mixed lettuce from the salad station then some veggies ranging from cooked carrots to steamed broccoli to raw spinach could be next. Going to the greasy, fried section and asking for a veggie burger, turkey burger, or getting a chicken patty to cut into strips to put on top would add some protein. Then, hitting up the pizza section for some Parmesan cheese would give the salad some fancy points. Mixing foods like this is also a great way to turn whatever you’re craving into a healthier option. For instance, I am a sucker for burritos at my school’s Taqueria section. A healthy spin on the burrito is to grab some mixed lettuce and spinach from the salad bar, get beans, chicken, tomatoes and pinto de gallo from the Taqueria, and then go back to the salad bar for black olives and corn. Yum!
Looking for some other great options aside from salads? Try topping pizza with your favorite veggies or toasting different bread (wheat, English muffin, or bagel) before waiting on the sandwich line (which then can be popped in the microwave or thrown on a George Foreman for a few seconds to make a melt). By mixing dishes from different stations, you could make rice bowls or even a fake chicken parm (by getting a grilled chicken sandwich then stopping by the pizza area).
There are many more options to the cafeteria than meets the eyes. Plus, if all else fails, talk with some of the people who work at the dining hall as most are obligated to make you something if none of the options shown appeal to you.