In honor of the start of a new school year, here is an article I submitted in a journalism class on the cafeteria and food service system at Northwestern University. Cheers to another year of freshman enjoying 5 Star Sarge.

College students are notorious for their poor eating habits. Forever associated with Ramen Noodles and greasy pizza, it seems like unhealthy food is integral to the college experience.

However, according to research from publications like Today’s Dietician, college dining halls have been distancing themselves from unhealthy stereotypes over the past decade, opting to serve more diverse and wholesome food options for their students.

This has been a national trend, as The Princeton Review has reported on the use of locally sourced ingredients and fresh produce on campuses across the country. Among U.S. News’s “National University Rankings” for academics, one can now find sites that rank U.S. universities based on the quality of their food.

The Daily Meal, a website dedicated to all things food and drink recently released its 2015 list for “The 75 Best Colleges for Food in America.” The Daily Meal ranked universities based on nutrition and sustainability, accessibility and service, education and events, surrounding area and the “X”- Factor: special touches that make the university dining experience a little more special.

Excelling in all five of these categories, Northwestern University snagged the number six spot on The Daily Meal’s list. To get a more comprehensive look into the interworking of the six dining halls which comprise Northwestern’s dining services, interviews were conducted with Sodexo, Northwestern’s catering company of 28 years, employees as well as students.

We eat to fuel our minds and bodies, so the nutritional value of our food is inherently very important. Northwestern works to ensure that the nutritional information for foods served in the dining halls is easily accessible to students, and that healthier dining options are available to students, according to The Daily Meal. Freshman Summer Bakr, 18, said that “The salad bar in Allison [Hall] has a lot of great options that I can make a meal out of.”

Northwestern’s dedication to accessibility and service was highly praised by the university’s students. Freshman, Evelyn MacPherson, 19, noted that “they [the dining halls] have very good vegan and vegetarian options,” while fellow freshman Moli Meshulam, 18, commented that “the food served is pretty diverse on a given day.” Although students complained that it is difficult to to coordinate their schedules with the times when dining halls serve formal meals, particularly lunch, they noted that other spots, like Lisa’s Café and the C-Store in Norris are convenient options for when they’re in a pinch.

Perhaps Northwestern Dining’s proudest asset is its education and events. Director of Communications and Engagement, Rachel Tilghman, works as a liaison between Northwestern and the school’s catering service of 28 years, Sodexo. Tilghman says her job focuses on student engagement. From providing internship opportunities for students interested in event planning and marketing, to coordinating events such as Noodlepalooza, Tilghman’s job is all about providing students with an experience that lingers longer than the food on their taste buds, Tilghman said.

For example, Global Chef, an event where chefs from around the world prepare their native cuisine at Northwestern dining halls, is about more than just the food for Tilghman. “We want to give students the opportunity to not only try new, delicious food, but also to learn about different cultures,” Tilghman said. Students who attended Global Chef’s Indian food night at Sargent Hall gave the event two thumbs up.

Freshman Izzy de la Gaurdio, 18, said “The Indian food was so good, and it was a nice change from normal dining hall food. I like eating different kinds of food, but it’s hard to get diversity in college. It was nice to taste something different.” Other students commented on the Indian-themed decorations in Sargent and thought it was a fun touch that some of the tables had been replaced with traditional Indian dining seating on the floor.

Special events at the dining halls are no easy feat to pull off, as Amy Dearth, former executive chef at Foster-Walker can attest to. Dearth and her team were responsible for planning and executing Foster-Walker’s Barbeque Week, an event which according to Dearth “took a lot of meeting, planning and collaborating, but was totally worth it.” Students agree as many of those who were interviewed said that they really enjoyed Barbeque Week.

Running a successful dining hall takes a large network of people to provide a positive experience for students and other diners. Richard Gongaware, who is in his second year as food service manager at Sargent Hall, is responsible for managing both the front and back of the house, allowing him to interact with staff and students equally. Gongaware said that Sargent’s success comes from its “great central location, which attracts a lot of students. From there the students form close relationships with the staff, which keeps them coming back.” Many students affirmed this statement saying that talking to Cora, an employee who swipes students into Sargent, is one of the best parts of their dining experience.

Student satisfaction with Northwestern dining halls ultimately comes down to the food that is served on a day to day basis. Freshman Eugene Yakubovich, 18, who is a huge fan of Northwestern’s food said that “Every person has their own taste. I could say what tastes good to me, but I can’t say what tastes good to everyone else.” With that concept in mind, Northwestern dining halls are providing diverse food options to suit the tastes of a variety of eaters.

SOURCES

The Daily Meal- http://www.thedailymeal.com/best-colleges-food-america

Today’s Dietician- http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/050113p18.shtml

The Princeton Review http://www.princetonreview.com/college-rankings/best-colleges/campus-food-infographic

Rachel Tilghman

Director of Communications and Engagement

Rachel.Tilghman@sodexo.com

224.306.7359

Richard Gongaware

Production Manager - Sargent Hall

richard.gongaware@sodexo.com

847-491-8109

Amy Dearth

Executive Chef - Foster Walker

amy.dearth@sodexo.com

847-491-5086

Fernando Tinoco

Executive Chef - Allison Hall

fernando.tinoco@sodexo.com

847-491-5509

Moli Meshulam, 18, Freshman, Istanbul, Turkey, Industrial Engineering, 224-714-991

Dan Nahon, 18, Freshman, Miami, Florida, undecided, 305-720-7896

Ege Serruf, 19, Freshman, Istanbul, Turkey, Industrial Engineering, 224-415-486

Evelyn MacPherson, 19, Freshman, Washington D.C. English major, 202-315-8347

Alp Alper, 20, Freshman, Istanbul Turkey, Engineering, 224-415-6800

Izzy de la Guardio 18, Freshman, Miami, Florida, Engineering undecided, 786-202-0537

Eugene Yakubovich, 18, Freshman, Arlington Heights, IL, Engineering, 847-370-9039

Summer Bakr, 18, Freshman, Downers Grove, IL, Biology, 630-901-3369