The Nation's Healthiest College Cafeterias

Family Health, Featured Article, Healthy Living
on August 14, 2014
Bongo Java The "Superfood" wrap at Grins Cafe, a kosher, vegan and vegetarian on-campus restaurant at Vanderbilt University.

Traditionally, the words “college dining hall” have conjured up images of limp cheese sandwiches, overcooked pasta, and mystery meat Mondays. However, many colleges have recently upped their dining game, serving up delicious, nutritious fare to their students. Below, we round up 11 universities whose on-campus eateries that prove healthy food can taste good.

Bowdoin College
Brunswick, ME

Bowdoin consistently ranks as one of the top colleges in the nation with both the tastiest and the healthiest food — both The Daily Meal and The Princeton Review named it #1 on their lists of colleges with the best food. The college’s dining philosophy is there is no such thing as “bad” and “good” food, and the menu certainly proves that with delicious-but-healthy dishes such as creamy vegetarian polenta and Szechuan chicken chili.

Stanford University
Stanford, CA

stanford dining

Stanford’s EatWell program is committed to providing students with fresh, seasonal food free of artificial preservatives, colors, flavors, sweeteners, and trans fat. Dining also tries to source ripe, locally grown produce, and the senior executive chef just won the United Fresh Produce Excellence in Foodservice Award for Colleges & Universities. The dining website also includes a nutrition calculator for the food available that day, so you can see the calories and nutrients the meal of your choice contains.

Virginia Tech
Blacksburg, VA


Virginia Tech Dining Services has a program called Y.E.S. (which stands for “You’re Eating Smarter”) that promotes healthy options such as whole grain, fresh produce, low-fat dairy, and proteins. In 2009, they launched Yes to Go, which extended the program to the express food markets. Plus, dining also hosts the blog “A Healthier Hokie,” which helps students figure out how to find healthy foods and navigate their food allergies.

Rice University
Houston, TX


Rice advocates not only eating healthy, but also eating smart, and actively promotes the plate method as a way for students to make good nutritional choices on their own, since the meal plan is all-you-can-eat style. The university also hosts a farmers’ market every Tuesday afternoon, and students can see a registered dietician for free through the Office of Student Wellbeing to discuss their food restrictions and eating healthier.

Cornell University
Ithaca, NY


There are more than 30 different places to grab food on campus at Cornell. The dishes are just as varied as the locations, with vegetarian, vegan, and OU-Certified kosher options in addition to various ethnic cuisines. The “Eating Well with Cornell” program tags foods that are 100 percent whole grain, trans-fat free, made with fresh ingredients, or low in fat, sugar and salt with a logo so students can easily identify them.

Washington University in St. Louis
St. Louis, MO

WashU focuses on arming its students with the nutritional information they need to make healthy choices. There’s an entire “nutrition” section of the dining services website, as well a blog called “Nutrition Bites” that students can follow for relevant information. WashU also employs a dedicated director of nutrition to oversee the campus dining halls and answer students’ questions. However, the healthy highlight of WashU’s dining services is definitely Studio40, a demonstration kitchen where students can learn to cook for themselves and watch chefs show off their culinary skills.

Brown University
Providence, RI

Brown dining makes sure all of its students have the ability to eat on campus by providing vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, dairy-free, Kosher and Halal options. Brown has also added creative eating stations such as a crepe bar in recent years. Additionally, the university dining website promotes the Ratty Gourmet, a student-run blog that chronicles creative cooking efforts using ingredients from Brown’s main cafeteria, the Sharpe Refectory (aka the Ratty).

James Madison University
Harrisonburg, VA

With its participation in the Healthy for Life program, James Madison dining is committed to providing wholesome, nutritious food for students with lean proteins, low- or non-fat dairy, lower sodium and unhealthy fats, and fresh, seasonal produce. But just because the food is good for you doesn’t mean it’s not tasty— James Madison has been named one of the colleges with the best food by The Princeton Review for twelve years straight, and for the past six years in a row it’s nabbed one of the top 5 spots.

Oberlin College
Oberlin, OH

Stevenson dining

One or two healthy initiatives aren’t enough for Oberlin — the college has a handy timeline of the progression of dining services’ nutrition programs over the past decade. Most recently, in 2013 Oberlin launched the Well-Being Indicator™, a green arrow icon that helps guests compare the overall nutrition of different menu items. Highlights include fair-trade coffee, antibiotic-free chicken, the Farm to Fork program, and plenty of make-your-own-meal bars, including salads, pastas, stir fries, and even pierogies.

Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN

sriracha honey tofu tacos

Vanderbilt’s nutrition motto is “because healthy can taste good,” and the university lives up to it with the recently launched Healthy Bites initiative, which focuses on improving healthy eating in three areas: dining halls and on-campus restaurants, catering, and vending machines. Nearly all the dining halls’ meats and vegetables can be prepared gluten-free, and the university’s on-campus Grins Vegetarian Cafe is the only strictly kosher restaurant in Nashville and is overseen by an orthodox rabbi.

Wheaton College
Wheaton, IL

Wheaton buys not only locally grown produce, but also local bread and milk products as well as fair trade coffee and tea to ensure students eat and drink only the freshest food and beverages. The college also recycles food scraps by sending them to a local pig farm for food, turns used coffee grounds and eggshells into fertilizer for the school’s greenhouse, and an alum even takes used vegetable frying oil and turns it into biofuel.