10 Colleges That Offer Unique, Healthy Dining Options

Healthy options

Farmers markets, composting and entirely plant-based dining halls are just a few of the unique options available among colleges across the country. To improve sustainability and accommodate dietary needs and allergies, some colleges, including the following 12 schools, offer nutrition resources and local food options for their students. This is not a comprehensive list of colleges with healthy dining initiatives, so students should conduct their own research to learn more about available options. For example, plant-focused eaters can use PETA’s “Vegan Report Card” to scope out schools with the highest ratings and student satisfaction.

Cornell University (NY)

Whole grain, transfat-free foods that use fresh ingredients and are lower in fat, sugar and salt are easy to spot at Cornell University in New York. The university’s Eating Well program puts an apple logo on foods that meet certain nutrition standards, and all dining staff members are required to complete a food allergen training program. Students have the option to receive nutrition counseling to evaluate dietary needs and navigate stress, anxiety and other barriers to healthy eating. Additionally, as part of the Cornell Healthy Eating Program, students with eating disorders or eating concerns can receive support from nutritionists, medical providers, counselors and behavioral health providers.

U.S. News rank: 17 (tie), National Universities

Emory University (GA)

Emory University’s student center and residential dining facility offer dining stations to meet students’ dietary needs, including plant-based, gluten-free, kosher and halal food options. The Georgia university also allows its students to get involved in the Oxford College Organic Farm, a living lab that provides produce for the school’s dining hall and a weekly farmers market on campus.

U.S. News rank: 21, National Universities

Georgia Institute of Technology

True to its name, Georgia Institute of Technology uses hydroponic crop technology to grow lettuce without the use of soil, and students can find cage-free eggs and grass-fed beef on campus. Leftovers are donated locally. Earlier this year, the Office of Campus Sustainability teamed up with Rise ‘n’ Shine, an initiative that works with Georgia farmers, to bring fresh produce boxes directly to campus. The Campus Kitchen at Georgia Tech also partners with the campus dining services department to prepare and deliver meals to people in need, according to the school’s website.

U.S. News rank: 38 (tie), National Universities

James Madison University (VA)

With sustainability in mind, James Madison University in Virginia donates unused food to local community organizations, offers reusable to-go containers, hosts a farmers market on campus throughout the year and works with Quest Recycling to turn its used fryer oil into biodiesel or animal feed, according to the school’s website. “Eat Well” labels are put on foods to indicate whether the item is whole grain, vegetarian, vegan, plant-forward or local. Produce is sourced within 150 miles of campus or within Virginia.

U.S. News rank: 3, Regional Universities South

Northwestern University (IL)

Sustainability is at the core of Northwestern University’s dining mission, according to its website. The Chicago area school sources organic produce from its farm in Osseo, Wisconsin, prioritizing local ingredients in its on-campus eateries. Milk from cows free of genetically engineered hormones is purchased from within Illinois, the Wild Roots on-campus garden produces food for campus eateries and fair-trade organic coffee is used in all resident dining locations. Leftovers are donated to community members in need.

U.S. News rank: 9 (tie), National Universities

Stanford University (CA)

Vegan or vegetarian? Stanford University in California might be a great fit. Daily menus on campus at Stanford are about 80% vegetarian and more than 50% vegan, with kosher and gluten-free food options aplenty. That means lots of plant-based food options, with ingredients such as soy, beans, lentils and seeds. The university’s dining services also works closely with the athletics department to meet the dietary needs of student athletes.

U.S. News rank: 6 (tie), National Universities

Sterling College (VT)

Sustainability and healthy foods are essential to Sterling College’s curriculum and community. The Vermont college grows 30% of its own food using no pesticides, according to its website. As a work college, students are required to do their part. Many cook alongside the college’s professional chefs to prepare meals or wash dishes. And for the dairy-intolerant, paleo or gluten-free students, Sterling practices “food inclusivity” to ensure everyone gets the nutrition they need without worry.

U.S. News rank: 168-222, National Liberal Arts Colleges

University of Massachusetts–Amherst

Healthy eating is made easy at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst. Menu identifiers list ingredients, nutrition information and a healthfulness scale on all food items. The labels also list allergens, including the “Top 8” list of dairy, eggs, seafood, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, soybeans, peanuts and gluten, plus sesame and corn. Certified organic farm partners are a key part of promoting plant-forward diets that eschew deep-fried foods and processed meats.

U.S. News rank: 68 (tie), National Universities

University of Montana

Campus dining at the University of Montana is “committed to doing their part to help promote a healthier planet” by sourcing food from local farms and vendors as well as promoting plant-based diets, according to its website. The college currently operates an orchard, beehives, two diversified gardens and an indoor microgreen operation and cares for Welsh Harlequin ducks — all of which provide food for the dining halls.

U.S. News rank: 277 (tie), National Universities

University of North Texas

The University of North Texas was the first college in the country to open an all-vegan university dining hall, according to its website. With daily themed menus, food options at the Mean Greens Cafe vary but can include made-to-order paninis and flatbread pizzas. Just outside the dining hall, five to 11 varieties of lettuce and herbs are grown at any given time in a hydroponic garden inside an upcycled freight trailer — producing upward of 750 heads of lettuce a week for campus eateries.

U.S. News rank: 277 (tie), National Universities

University of Pittsburgh

The University of Pittsburgh is part of the Cool Food Pledge, a global initiative led by the World Resources Institute to reduce 25% of food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The university also committed to the Real Food Challenge, with a goal of serving 25% local, ecologically sound and humane foods by 2025, according to its website. Pitt hosts weekly farmers markets in the spring and fall, donates leftover food to local organizations and offers a vegan master list to highlight vegan options at all on-campus dining spots.

U.S. News rank: 59 (tie), National Universities

Virginia Tech

In addition to Virginia Tech’s 11 dining centers, food is brought directly to students with two specialized food trucks: The Grillfield and the Periodic Table. Their Latino-fusion and Asian-fusion menus, respectively, are always evolving, and the trucks pop up in underserved areas of campus and at accessible locations for football games. The university also has executive chefs at each dining center, registered dietitians, extensive off-campus dining plans and uses locally sourced produce, including from the university’s farm. Dining centers also offer reusable, biodegradable to-go containers.

U.S. News rank: 75 (tie), National Universities

Other resources for campus living

Learn more about college living by checking out the U.S. News guide to campus resources. Connect with U.S. News Education on Facebook and Twitter to get more advice on making the college decision.

Colleges with healthy food options

— Cornell University

— Emory University

— Georgia Institute of Technology

— James Madison University

— Northwestern University

— Stanford University

— Sterling College

— University of Massachusetts–Amherst

— University of Montana

— University of North Texas

— University of Pittsburgh

— Virginia Tech

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How Colleges Are Addressing Food Insecurity

What International Students Should Know About Health Insurance in the U.S.

10 Colleges That Offer Unique, Healthy Dining Options originally appeared on usnews.com

Update 07/27/22: This slideshow has been updated with new information.

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