By Shawna Leader and Allison Milton/The AS Review

Eating in the dining halls is a quintessential college experience, but it takes about a quarter to realize that every night for the past three months you’ve eaten the same thing. Maybe you tried something else and didn’t like it or aren’t sure how to begin expanding your meal options.

“Health wise, it’s good,” freshman Chelsea Richmond said of the food in the dining halls. “Taste wise, they could have a little more [variety].”

Luckily, there’s a solution.

Step One: Seek Variety

While the dining hall offers foods ranging from pizza to salads to vegetarian stir fry, it’s easy to fall into the pattern of eating the same thing every night, especially when trying something new has the potential to ruin your dinner. However, even taking a small sample of a new food can broaden your options. And if you hate it? It’s all part of the learning process.

“You kind of learn what you like and you don’t like … I’ve learned to avoid certain things,” freshman Alison Brown said.

Variety doesn’t necessarily mean complex or outrageous. You can make a simple chicken salad right at your table by slicing a chicken burger patty over greens from the salad bar and topping it with your favorite dressing.
When you have an idea of which foods are to your taste, it’s time to move on to step two.

Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

Step Two: Know What You Like and Expand on It

Once you have identified which foods you like, it’s time to create a meal from it. Do you like rice dishes? Take one tortilla and fill it with rice, spinach from the salad bar and tofu or stir fry to make a wrap. Is ice cream your favorite dessert? Add peanut butter, as sophomore Monica Sager does. Junior Andy Overland mixes granola and yogurt, and Richmond combines small portions in order to make larger meals out of them. When you enter the dining hall, ask yourself which basic foods you like the most, then start combining.

Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

Step Three: Keep Your Health in Mind

Junior Cameron Frazier lives off campus, but said he eats healthier in the dining hall. At the same time, some dining hall foods, such as pizza and hamburgers, are better when eaten in moderation. But you don’t have to eat a spinach salad every night, either. Combining vegetables with pasta, for example, creates a tasty and filling meal. Get a plate of pasta and add vegetables from the salad bar, such as corn, broccoli and zucchini, then top it with vinaigrette dressing or red sauce.

Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

Photo by Erik Simkins/The AS Review

When thinking about health, it’s important not to demonize pizza or other less healthy options. Instead, as directed by step one, seek variety and don’t worry about treating yourself once in a while. Health is another area where combining foods is essential; few people want to eat a bowl of plain spinach, but a spinach salad topped with stir fry vegetables? Delicious!

Step Four:  Strategize

A trip to the dining hall on a busy night can be nothing short of chaos. It doesn’t make sense to race back and forth between service areas when it’s crowded. On those busy nights, the best approach is to select foods in close proximity to each other, take them to your table and make your combinations there. For example, in the Viking Commons, potatoes, steamed corn and green beans are next to each other. Fill a bowl with vegetables and grab a potato; once you’re at your table, slice the potato and top it with the vegetables to make a salad. If you don’t mind waiting in the salad bar line, top it with cheese, other vegetables or condiments.

According to Overland, he eats something new every night. It’s not a bad idea, and with these four steps, not an impossible one to achieve.