5 dining hall hacks to level up your meals

A dining hall guide for CSU newcomers.


Collegian | Tri Duong

Kitchen staff prepare pizzas during lunch at Piatto in The Foundry Aug. 30. This Italian station also had build your own pasta dishes.

Emmalee Krieg, Staff Reporter

Just like that, the school year at Colorado State University has begun. First-year students are excited to experience dorm life and everything that comes with it: new friends, roommates and nightlife. Unfortunately, dining hall food isn’t usually included on that list. If you’re one of the many first-years who view dining hall food as less than mediocre, you might find these tips helpful next time you grab a meal.

1. Try something new 

It can be so easy to stay in your comfort zone when it comes to food, but eating burgers for lunch six days in a row can get a bit boring. Even if you think there isn’t enough variety offered in your dining hall, check again. Look for something simple, like a new sauce or topping.


If that doesn’t cut it, go to another dining hall. You’ll find they’re all walkable from any residence hall. Braiden Dining Center has sandwiches, The Foundry always has pasta and Ram’s Horn Dining Center often has fajitas or a Mongolian grill. Just remember that on a college campus, variety is close and accessible.

Colorado State Univeristy students fill their bowls for lunch at the Theory station in The Foundry
Colorado State University students fill their bowls for lunch at the Theory station in The Foundry Aug. 30. (Collegian | Tri Duong)

2. Substitute where you can 

If the dining hall station you choose doesn’t have the blend of foods you’re looking for, simply substitute from another station. For instance, you might want different meat on your hamburger bun — or scratch the bun, and make a lettuce wrap instead.

Combine cereal with fruit, add pulled pork to your mashed potatoes or add mayonnaise to your salad, if that’s your thing. At the end of the day, no one’s watching, so you should just eat what you want to eat. 

 3. Get creative with combos

Have you ever heard of a “garbage plate”? This combo is kind of out there, but if you’re feeling up to the challenge, take your burger meat, hot sauce, pasta, onions and condiment of choice to create one big dish. You can also make this with the offered meat substitute.

In the mood for a sandwich? Grab your favorite bread, load it with mac and cheese, ideally a roasted meat of some kind and a few pickles. Trust me: It’s sensational. Even if it’s just a grilled cheese sandwich, pickles are a must.

If you’re on the hunt for a really good side, don’t be afraid to drench those fries in chipotle mayo or queso, add a little lime (lime can save almost anything) and top it off with some fried avocado.

You might have to wait for the right day when certain foods are served to make your desired combos, but when the pieces align, be creative!

Tacos, salad bowl and an apple in the cafeteria of The Foundry
Tacos, a salad bowl and an apple in the cafeteria of The Foundry Aug. 30. The dining center is connected to Corbett and Parmelee halls and houses eight micro-restaurants. (Collegian | Tri Duong)

4. Put those uneaten meals to good use

If you’re on a meal plan, you know the importance of making use of every meal you pay for. Don’t forget if you don’t spend all your meals for the week, you can cash them in for other treats. Ram’s Horn, for example, has a little shop where you can purchase snacks or drinks. Each unused meal swipe equates to $9. So if you skipped lunch on your way to your next class, be sure to go back and buy a sandwich to go.

 5. Take a piece of fruit when you can 

You should always try to take a little fruit on your way out. Whether it’s an apple or an orange, you’ve saved yourself a snack.


You’re more likely to eat a pre-washed apple than some old produce hiding in your minifridge from a week ago. It’s fresh, it’s crisp and it’s in your hand, not all the way back at your dorm. Convenience is key in college.

Dining hall food isn’t by any means top-tier cuisine. It can be tough to stomach when you’re already homesick. So allow yourself to get comfortable, and use the benefits and tricks at your disposal. This way, going out to eat is one less thing to stress about in your first year of college. 

Reach Emmalee Krieg at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @csucollegian.