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The Dos and Don’ts of College Dining

Nervous about eating in college? Kelly provides a guide for eating at Carleton.

Nervous about eating in college? Kelly provides a guide for eating at Carleton.

As a prospective student I was very nervous about going to the dining halls. Burton and LDC, our two dining halls on campus, are both bustling with activity with students shouting hellos across counters, forks being dropped, people almost setting the panini press on fire. All of this movement and noise overwhelmed me at first, but after three years of navigating the dining hall I have managed to crack the code of successful dining hall eating. 

Valetine's Dinner
Zoë and Kitty pose at one of the fancy tables set up for Valentine’s Day. The dining halls work really hard to make meal times special. Whether it be putting out design-your-own cookies around holidays, hosting a chili contest, or partnering with the Classics department for a week of ancient Greek food, the dining hall works tirelessly to provide creative options that often make students’ days better.

The following is what to do and not do in the dining halls: 

DO take a deep breath and be present in the moment.

DO NOT put things other than bread in the toaster…

I may have learned this the hard way when I put fancy bread in the toaster and set it on fire. Soon thereafter signs were posted reminding people to only use the appropriate bread in the toaster. 

Nikki Tendies Date
Nikki smiling at one of our weekly tendies dates.

DO make weekly plans.

Every Monday for lunch I get chicken tenders from Sayles, one of our three cafes on campus, with my friend Nikki ‘23. These weekly “tendies dates” as we call them are a great way for us to stay connected during the hustle and bustle of Carleton’s ten week term. Nikki and I were both extraordinarily busy last term, so taking an hour to reconnect with my friend and to check in on each other was really important.

DO NOT worry about eating alone.

It is common to see Carls eating alone in the dining halls, taking a break from socializing to read a book or watch a sports match on their phone. Often sitting alone invites others to come say hello and try to talk to you. While they mean well, sometimes you just need a break. To get this break I like to sit in the corner facing away from the dining hall as a sign to my friends and acquaintances that I am taking a break from socializing while eating my meal.

DO pick up a quick lunch from the cafes between classes.

Our three cafes on campus are great options for if you are on the go!

Sayles Facilities
The Sayles cafe.

DO NOT miss Saturday Sundaes.

Every Saturday, the dining halls serve sundaes. The flavor of ice cream changes, but you can always count on a yummy array of toppings including oreos, sprinkles, chocolate sauce, marshmallows, and more. I recommend making friends who work in the dining hall because they will always hook you up with an extra scoop of ice cream. 

DO Grab a Green to Go and eat a picnic outside to soak in the sun. 

Green to go
Pictured is one of my favorite meals from the Dining Hall: mac n cheese, collard greens, corn bread, peach cobbler, an apple, and pink lemonade served in a Green to Go container. I have a pretty small appetite and like my different foods to stay in their section, but if you require more food you can stuff your Green to Go past the brim if you need! The Green to Gos were one of many ways Carleton kept students safe at the height of the pandemic. Having the option to eat outside with friends allowed us to stay 6 feet apart while still engaging socially with our peers, which was important for both physical and mental health.

DO NOT eat too much sugary cereal.

A funny subset of college students (not just Carls) come to college having been deprived of artificial sugar their entire lives. Specifically sugary cereal. When you come to college, you are unregulated, carefree, and have unlimited access to Lucky Charms and other sugary cereals. Fall term of my first year I watched many friends grab a bowl of cereal to accompany their breakfast, lunch, and dinners. Nothing wrong with treating yourself every once in a while! But I recommend to…

DO take advantage of the variety of healthy and locally sourced options the dining hall provides!

Try something new! I had never had curry before coming to college, and now it is one of my favorite dishes the dining hall serves. 

Edgar - cookies in Watson lounge
My former resident, Edgar, waiting patiently to eat the cookies I made for Study Break. As an RA, I host Study Break every Sunday as a time for residents to socialize with one another and check in with me about how their week is going. RAs can often be found baking goodies for their floor in the hall kitchen!

DO NOT forget your options.

Check out food in Downtown Northfield, St. Olaf, or cook with friends in the floor kitchen!

DO reach out to the Office of Health Promotions (OHP) or Student Health and Counseling (SHAC) if you are struggling with healthy eating habits.

Both offices provide an array of support for healthy eating. 

DO NOT walk backwards in the dining hall.

Speaking from personal experience, it will inevitably end in a plate of mashed potatoes all over the ground. However it will also lead to making a new friend. There are often people you do not know but who happen to be on the same lunch schedule as you for a term who become your “dining hall buddies.” I find myself smiling at people whom I have never officially met, but feel connected to just because we both happen to eat lunch in LDC at 12:25 three days a week. Carleton is a close-knit campus and while I do not know everyone, I like being able to form these small connections and relationships with people I would not have overlapped with otherwise. 

DO go to campus events—there is often free food!

Club Soccer Cookout
My fellow Womxn’s Club Soccer captains working hard at our team cookout. You can find these grilling stations all around campus and often see student organizations cooking outside together, playing lawn games, and listening to music. To read more about Club Soccer, check out Zoë’s blog here!

If you follow these few simple recommendations you are sure to succeed at college eating your first year at Carleton or while visiting here for a tour. If you are looking for another insight into college eating, check out Aidan’s blog about working in the dining halls!

Kelly (she/hers) is a rising Senior from Downers Grove, IL. She is a Psychology major with minors in Music and Cross-Cultural Studies. Kelly has explored her academic and personal interests at Carleton by participating in the Social and Personality Psychology Research Lab, playing the cello in the Carleton Orchestra, and studying abroad on the Carleton-run Sports and Globalization Program in London and Sevilla. Outside of the classroom, Kelly spends her time working as a Resident Assistant, playing rugby and soccer, volunteering with Project Friendship, and reading books. Meet the other Bloggers!