Food Service on Campus

Food Service on Campus

Many concerns preoccupy the minds of college students, but perhaps none more so than food. Weight gain is so prevalent among students away from home for the first time that adding the “freshman 15” pounds is commonplace. The good news is that colleges and the food services they employ are trying to change this.

“We try to hit all aspects of a balanced meal,” said Matthew Fogarty, executive chef at St. Olaf College. “What separates me from any other college is that we make cool food.”

The food service at St. Olaf consistently ranks among the best in the nation, a reputation noted in the Northfield school’s marketing efforts. This year, The Princeton Review’s Best Campus Food listed St. Olaf at number five, right behind Cornell University and Virginia Tech.

Serving about 2,200 students, Fogarty can go through 450 pounds of potatoes and 250 pounds of turkey for just one night’s dinner. His weekly menu includes 70 entrees. All the while, he’s trying to replicate the “excellence of restaurants on a large scale, providing simple but elegant meals.”

Fogarty, an employee of the Bon Appétit Management Company of Palo, Alto, California, will turn the classic tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwich into something he calls New School Grilled Cheese. The dish combines a bowl of creamy tomato soup and Gorgonzola, Brie, and Cheddar cheeses with caramelized onions, topped with a crouton made from French bread.

St. Olaf students may also eat the food that they grow themselves. A natural fit for its rural Minnesota location, the organic student-run STOGROW farm sells 100 percent of its produce to Bon Appétit. Among other foods, student farmers raise green beans, tomatoes, beets, kale, herbs, and even watermelon – all to be served in the college’s main dining facility, Stav Hall.

Traditional four-year colleges with board programs are not the only schools that have moved away from the “scoop and serve, cafeteria approach” to student dining, said Pete Virnig, senior regional director of operations for Lancer Hospitality. Virnig oversees the food service at most of Minnesota’s two-year colleges.

“The cheeseburger and fries are as popular today as they were 10 years ago,” said Virnig, “but students are demanding healthier food items now, including vegan, gluten-free, and low-fat options.” Lancer, based in Mendota Heights, serves students at schools such as Anoka Technical College and Normandale Community College.

Meal plans, or board options, are not available at the community colleges, but students may use the company’s Café Rewards card at all food venues Lancer operates. By using the pre-paid card, which is similar to a gift card, students avoid paying the state sales tax that restaurants must charge. Through its Smart Spoon website, Lancer also provides students with nutritional information on each of its menu items.

While recipes, tastes, and eating habits have changed, what has remained the same over the years is the central role that student dining plays in shaping the collegiate experience. St. Olaf spokesperson Kari VanDerVeen is proud that “we make food from scratch that is locally sourced,” but at the end of the day what the university wants to create is “a welcoming place for students to come together.”