Bon Appétit Feeds 13 of 75 Best Colleges for Food in America

It’s long past time to give up on the old cliché of campus food being the worst part of the college experience — it only shows the age of those writing it, not the reality. These days, university dining is one of the many core offerings that institutions use to attract students, and food service providers compete to stand out. Which is why even here at Bon Appétit Management Company, which started the restaurant-quality revolution in on-campus dining, we’re thrilled when our campuses are recognized for their high standards and innovative programs.

Congratulations to the 13 Bon Appétit teams who made The Daily Meal’s recent list of the 75 Best Colleges for Food in America for 2015. The publication evaluated more than 600 colleges on five criteria:

  • Nutrition and Sustainability
  • Accessibility and Service
  • Education and Events
  • Surrounding Area (off-campus dining options)
  • The “X” Factor (creative extras)

Even though the actual quality of the food was extremely important in our ranking, the overall dining experience, including the surrounding area, is what really determined which colleges made the cut and which didn’t,” wrote Editor Dan Myers.

That last part is something that we can’t control, obviously. But Bon Appétit companywide standards and practices encompass so many things that showed up in the list of kudos — cooking from scratch in small batches to order, buying at least 20 percent of ingredients from small local farms within 150 miles (through our Farm to Fork program), serving only cage-free shell eggs and sustainable seafood, accommodating special diets, holding cooking classes, fighting food waste, and offering “wow” options like our Dub Box food trucks, Eat Local Challenge, and Low Carbon Diet Day — that we’re actually surprised all of our campuses weren’t on the list! Look out, next year!

Here are our 13 ranked schools, and what the Daily Meal had to say about them:

The Fresh Food Café at Johns Hopkins University

The Fresh Food Café at Johns Hopkins University

#3 Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD 

Johns Hopkins’ dining services boast a hotel-quality brunch, food and wine pairings for seniors of legal drinking age, themed monotony breakers each month, and cooking classes in on-campus residences that focus on healthy eating. There are also monthly faculty and staff dinners with students to promote community-building as well as weekly chef demonstrations, tastings, and samplings in retail locations. Options served at the dining hall include manicotti puttanesca, house-smoked beef brisket sandwiches, rotisserie entrées and sides, and carved-to-order roasted meat sandwiches, so you will always be eating well at Johns Hopkins. Everything in the dining halls is made in small batches and from scratch, which not only gives students the freshest options available, but also reduces waste. Sustainability is very important on campus, which is why the dining services use compostable paper products and to-go packaging, and they compost all their food wastes and organic materials. JHU also only purchases cage-free eggs, hormone-free milk, and locally grown produce whenever possible. And if you are a student on campus craving a late-night bite, C-stores on campus are open as late as 2 a.m.

#5 Duke University, Durham, NC

Duke has locations on campus serving fare that sounds more suited to a fine-dining restaurant than a college dining hall, such as pan-seared diver scallops with a basil pistou, carved-to-order porchetta with salsa verde, and gnocchi and sage au gratin. Don’t feel like leaving your bed all day? Don’t you worry, because there are eateries on Duke’s campus that will deliver your meal right to your dorm. At Duke, there are a total of 51 dining options for students on the meal plan, including 27 on-campus locations ranging from coffee shops to outposts of local favorites, 17 local restaurants that deliver to anywhere on campus, and seven food trucks. Whatever you want, wherever you want it, you can get it at Duke. But even with all these delicious options available, you’re still going to be eating healthily. Duke Dining partnered with the on-campus nutritionist to create the Balance Your Plate program, which is designed to help students build a healthy and delicious plate of food. The Chef’s Chatter series focuses on one healthy food item a month and how to cook, eat, and enjoy that food in many different ways. Oh yeah, and Duke Dining holds over 60 events every year, with each month featuring a large-scale event like the ever-popular Cruise Themed Dinner.  They’re also in the process of renovating two main dining halls, and the finished product will be “the most cutting-edge service that has ever been attempted in a university dining environment,” according to the school. Do you see anything wrong with this dining program? Because we don’t.

#10 Emory University, Atlanta, GA 

The extensive list of events held at Emory, including Melon Mania, the Heirloom Tomato Festival, and a Mardi Gras celebration, had us at hello, but there’s so much more going on. The kitchen serves truly impressive dishes, like a grilled vegetable and balsamic panini, but it seems that the well-stocked salad bar is the healthy student favorite, which cannot be said for most colleges. And although Emory is dedicated to promoting health with their Healthy Eating Partners Program, they also realize that every once in a while, simple comfort food is all that diners need. That’s why students have access to national chains like Chick-fil-A and Starbucks right on campus. The student-run advisory committee runs the show at the dining halls, going through complaints and making sure that everything is suited to the students’ needs.

Mills College student at the farmers market

Mills College student at the farmers market

#12 Mills College, Oakland, CA

Mills is completely dedicated to sustainability. The dining services use local ingredients as much as possible and cook in small batches to reduce waste and maintain freshness. On top of that, vegetarian and vegan options are served at every meal and no nuts are used in any of the food in order to ensure that those with allergies can eat safely. And Mills certainly knows how to throw a party, with themed events like the Latina Heritage Dinner, several all-campus picnics each year, “chef wars,” and a meal centered around the produce harvested from the campus farm. Students can also relax and enjoy food from the Tea Shop, a campus hot spot, or venture off campus into the surrounding Bay Area, which is renowned for its food.

St. Olaf's main dining hall

St. Olaf’s main dining hall

#25 St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN 

Just because St. Olaf is a small liberal arts college doesn’t mean they cut corners in the food department. In fact, with menu options like sage-crusted turkey with rustic raisin stuffing; beef- and rice-stuffed peppers; and chicken Florentine with penne pasta, artichokes, spinach, crimini mushrooms, tomatoes, and feta cheese, we’d say that the dining services go above and beyond what’s expected of a college dining experience. And the food isn’t the only thing that impresses us about St. Olaf. Their commitment to sustainability is obvious. The college purchases 23.5 percent of their food from farm-to-fork vendors, and all seafood purchased falls under the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Guidelines. At least twice a month, the dining services throw a food-focused event, like theme meals and the Eat Local Challenge. Even outsiders can dine at St. Olaf, so maybe we’ll be seeing you there!


Pitzer College students

Pitzer College students

#27 Pitzer College, Claremont, CA

Pitzer College uses reusable to-go containers to reduce waste, purchases from local vendors, and develops menus to focus on seasonal items that can be purchased locally. Clearly, the dining service is dedicated to environmental stewardship. The college also participates in Low Carbon Diet Day and the Eat Local Challenge to educate students on everything having to do with sustainability. And students are happy to eat here, with menu options like heirloom tomato salad, chicken Marsala, barbecue baby back ribs, and grilled polenta in a white bean and tomato ragù. When they aren’t eating delicious everyday food, they are participating in exciting theme nights, like Mongolian Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, Wild Card Wednesdays, Steak Night Thursdays, and Farm-to-Fork Fridays. When you’re looking to get off campus, you can use your dining plan at any of the Claremont Colleges or use your Flex dollars at various locations around the school. The menu varies daily and chefs are encouraged to experiment and showcase the cuisines with which they grew up.

#29 University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 

Being situated in Philadelphia definitely doesn’t hurt the University of Pennsylvania’s dining options. This school has one of the highest overall Yelp ratings of all colleges considered, but UPenn doesn’t stop there. Buffalo hot wings; vegan chili made with local squash, onion, peppers, tomatoes, cumin, and cilantro; gnocchi with roasted vegetables; and roast beef with rosemary gravy, horseradish mashed potatoes, and honey-glazed carrots are just a few of the meals you can get on campus. And one of the ways that UPenn ensures that their food is so delicious is by sourcing locally and following a farm-to-fork philosophy. Students can also participate in sustainability efforts with the Green2Go program, which reduces waste by using disposable to-go containers, or take on the Low Carbon Diet Day and the Eat Local Challenge.

#31 Washington University in St. Louis, MO 

Orange pork stir-fry, a fresh fruit bar, and juicy barbecue are among the delicious options you can find at the dining halls at Washington University. The dining services host more than five events a week, like a chef competition, Dr. Seuss Night, and Low-Carbon Diet Day, so eating is as fun as it is delicious on this college campus. It’s clear that they’re dedicated to giving their students the absolute best when it comes to food service, but they also take sustainability seriously, which is why they turn used cooking oil into biofuel, compost waste, and source ingredients exclusively from local vendors. Washington University is known for school spirit, and it’s not hard to see why with dining credentials like these.

Pizza at Wesleyan

Pizza at Wesleyan

#38 Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 

Wesleyan vegan food service program was named No. 1 in the nation by PETA for the 2012 to 2013 school year, which is impressive in and of itself. But when you look at other menu options, such as tandoori chicken with basmati rice and stewed chickpeas and apple dessert pizza topped with sweetened cream, you really start to realize how amazing the dining program at Wesleyan is. Events on the Wesleyan campus include themed holiday dinners and a biweekly Chef’s Table, where students and others gather to discuss current and future goals for the dining program. The Chef’s Table serves fresh ingredients for sampling and offers a cooking course to educate students about sustainable culinary practices.

#39 Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA

Dining at MIT is all about health and flavor, which is why the menu features items like squash ratatouille with quinoa, eggplant stuffed with herbed tofu, fish tacos with chipotle sauce, lime coleslaw and black beans over rice, and truffled roast beef with buttered leeks. The Farm-to-Fork program is one of the reasons why the food is so fresh and delicious and dining services has dedicated itself to offering whole-grain options, encouraging protein consumption, and reducing sodium. Professional nutrition counseling is also available for students who want advice on portion control and general healthy eating. And if that weren’t enough, the kitchens, cafés, and loading docks all offer online virtual tours so students can keep an eye on what’s going on behind the scenes.

#49 Roger Williams University, Bristol, RI 

Roger Williams’ dining services are committed to sustainable practices and healthy eating. The school participates in the Eat Local Challenge and Low Carbon Diet Day, and they also made all carryout containers compostable and use only cage-free eggs and humanely raised beef. The taste and quality of the food is also at the forefront of Roger Williams’ mind, which is why menu items include vegetable- and egg-fried rice, chicken scallopini with lemon butter sauce, and penne with Italian sausage and marinara. With options like those, you’ll be excited to eat on campus every day.

Proud Wheaton College students

Proud Wheaton College students

#62 Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL 

With menu options like balsamic roasted pork loin, vegetable and mushroom pot pie, and insanely creative pizzas, who wouldn’t want to eat at Wheaton College? And the menu isn’t the only thing setting this college apart from the rest. Wheaton’s dining services are dedicated to offering their students the freshest, most sustainable options as often as possible. More than 20 percent of the ingredients used in the dining halls are purchased from local vendors. Transparency is also very important to Wheaton, which is why they use visible grills and woks so students know exactly how their food is being prepared.

#70 Carleton College, Northfield, MN 

Lunch at Carleton

Lunch at Carleton

Just because Carleton College is small doesn’t mean you should underestimate its dining program. Boneless pork chops with roasted red potatoes, steamed cauliflower, caramelized red onions, and warm cinnamon apple sauce; eggplant Parmesan with roasted red pepper polenta fries; and roasted butternut squash soup with wilted kale are just a few of the drool-worthy options on the menu at Carleton’s dining hall. And if you ever have any questions about food and health, you can dine with the dietician. Other awesome things going on at this liberal arts school include a Star Wars-themed “May the 4th Be with You” dinner, a Mardi Gras celebration, and a farm bike tour.