Let's face it, dining hall food gets old really fast. I asked people on campus their favorite hacks to make the most of our dining hall, Sparky's, which is a buffet-style dining hall.
"Heat cookies up in the panini press"
What is better than a cookie? A cookie that is warm and gooey and crispy all at the same time. The key to this is using the panini press! In just a few seconds, the chocolate chips melt, the cookie gets crispy parts and it just makes them 100x better.
"Mix vegetables and chicken into pasta to make it different"
Sick of the same pasta and sauce? Mix in chicken from the grill station and vegetables from salad station, grill station, or comfort station. Sometimes they even have bacon bits and peas in the salad station you can mix with alfredo sauce.
"Mix sour cream with cheese sauce to thicken it"
Sometimes in the pasta sauce section, they have a cheese sauce. Add sour cream to make it thicker (because sometimes it's way too runny)!
"Use the cheese sauce on tortilla chips"
Speaking of cheese sauce, many people mentioned using the cheese sauce as a queso. You can dip chips into it or make nachos. I suggest adding salsa or hot sauce to it if you like spice! Some even put it on top of french fries, potatoes, or broccoli to change it up.
"Make oil for bread/breadsticks like an Italian restaurant"
Feeling fancy? Take a small bowl or cup and pour in olive oil from the salad station. Then, go to the pasta station and add a spoonful or two of parmesan cheese. To finish it off, head to the spice rack and add what you like - red pepper flakes, garlic powder, Italian seasoning, salt, or pepper. Now you have a delicious dip for pasta night! This also works as a salad dressing, a dressing for grilled veggies, or a pasta "sauce".
"Make a root beer float!"
It is such a simple idea, but it took me awhile to realize this was something I could do. There are plenty of sodas in the dining hall to choose from and ice cream flavors too. You can go for the classic root beer and vanilla combo or experiment with other combos (like orange soda + vanilla ice cream = creamsicle).
"Use an ice cream cup and coffee lid to carry out snacks"
Want to take some chips or fruit to go? Cereal for tomorrow morning's quick breakfast? Find the small paper cups used for ice cream and a lid from the coffee station (or use a coffee cup) to carry out snacks!
"Buffalo chicken dip in the microwave"
This is a popular hack. There are several recipes you can find to make a quick dip in the microwave. Most likely a combo of shredded chicken, hot sauce, and cream cheese.
"Use the spices near the panini press"
In Merrimack's dining hall, there is a small spice rack with garlic powder, chili powder, Italian seasoning, etc. If your chicken, rice, or veggies are boring you after the 3rd time eating them this week, try adding something to spice it up. Another option is to make your own sauces - a popular online recipe is making a Thai peanut sauce with peanut butter, hot sauce and soy sauce.
"Make a breakfast quesadilla or burrito"
Take eggs and sausage/bacon/ham from the breakfast station and put it on a tortilla, cheese, and salsa from the sandwich station. You can add beans or veggies from the salad station as well.
"Make your own salad dressing"
For a change, you can make your own salad dressing. This is not only healthy, but also can switch it up if you're sick of the same old caesar and balsamic. Use the condiments, spices, oils, and vinegars available to make a new dressing. For example, mix mustard, maple syrup, and balsamic for a sweet and tangy dressing.
"Use the grilled chicken to make a sandwich or wrap"
Instead of using deli meat, you can use the grilled chicken in the grill section on your favorite sandwich bar bun or bread. Another common hack is to cut grilled chicken in a wrap with lettuce and caesar dressing for your own chicken caesar wrap!
In one of the plastic cups or bowls, layer yogurt, granola, and fruit. Or for a dessert, layer soft serve, toppings, whipped cream, brownie, etc.
"Make a trail mix with the random snacks"
You can mix the candies from the ice cream station, chips or pretzels near the sandwich station, and seeds from the salad station to create your own snack mix.
"Chocolate chip waffles!"
Make your Saturday mornings special by adding chocolate chips from the ice cream station to your waffle batter in the waffle machine. Other ideas include adding M&Ms, chopped fruits, etc.
"Ice cream sandwiches, brownie sundaes, and other ice cream hacks"
Heat up brownies if they have them in the dessert station and add ice cream. Sometimes they have chocolate sauce too and whipped cream! Use the cookies to make an ice cream sandwich. Mix the crushed oreos, M&Ms, or other toppings with the soft serve to make a diy "blizzard" or "mcflurry". Gotta love the ice cream!
Hopefully you found a new idea to spice up your usual meals at Sparkys. Luckily, no matter what, there are always other options to hold you over until the next home-cooked meal over break.