Friday, September 6, 2013

What type of college eater were you?

My eating in college was a metaphor for my life: chaotic, undisciplined, largely solitary, with occasional flashes of insight. I discovered some new foods like falafel, New England pizza, turtle pie, and spicy fries.  But college also involved excessive amounts of carbohydrates eaten in lieu of regular meals. Of course, I wasn't the only unhealthy eater in college--in fact, I would go so far to say that ANYONE who says they ate normally in college is a liar, at least if they went the conventional, residential undergraduate route.

The Different Types of College Eaters

The Freshman Fifteen-er

Flickr: TheSpaceQueen87
This person was slim or normal weight in high school and never had to count calories because he was undergoing a growth spurt and/or played sports.  His parents also were probably subtly healthy but not crazy-healthy eaters, the kind of people who would serve green beans with meatloaf instead of mac & cheese and insist on family mealtime four nights a week. When presented with tasty food in the past, this college eater would simply eat it until it was gone.  This strategy worked until the student came to college and was presented with an unlimited buffet. For the first month, the freshman fifteen-er can't believe the luck of having hot pancakes with butter and syrup every morning, fries at every meal, and an unlimited toppings sundae bar. Then, suddenly he can't button his jeans.  Spends the rest of the year trying to cut back and wearing a baggy sweatshirt.

The jock

This is the one type of eater who is ecstatic about the unlimited cafeteria food and worries he won't get enough calories.  He gets up much earlier than his friends for practice and hammers down an egg and bacon biscuit from the fast food joint on campus that opens at 6am before he rows for crew or goes running. Then he heads to the dining hall and eats a full breakfast. You can always spot the jock at every meal because he is the only student who actually gets glasses of milk to drink with his food.  He also has a stock of protein bars and shakes in his dorm room, because his muscle mass might atrophy if he skips lunch.

The OCD student

Pasta, cake, and coke: it is what's for dinner but the Sweet & Low in coffee makes it all okay
Much like the OCD kid in elementary school, this person eats the same thing.  Every. Single. Day.  Only it is worse because it is college, which means EVERY meal is the same routine. Colleges, with their infinite wisdom, offer predictable meal alternatives to the main course for picky eaters and this person ALWAYS takes one of those options.  I knew someone in college who ate a bowl of nondescript cereal (I think Cheerios) for breakfast, a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch, and a plate of pasta for dinner ALL freshman year. I guess the school pasta sauce had some veggies in it to prevent scurvy.

The junk food junkie

I'm not sure you have enough ketchup for your onion rings, there...
JFJ never got to eat much junk food growing up, except on the sly.  Now the restrictive parents are gone. Can easily be spotted as the student with a pile of curly fries for a meal and two desserts in the cafeteria line.

The artist

Not sure there are enough carbs here
She gazes at the multicolored array of juices and sodas and her inner Julia Child is inspired.  After mixing 7-Up and grapefruit juice and throwing in some Mountain Dew as well, suddenly she becomes a 'school cafeteria artist.'  Mixing cereals with chocolate milk (or orange juice) is next.  Then she gets even more creative, using the fro-yo bar to top her French toast or she puts leftover breakfast granola on her pudding or slathers salad dressing on plain pasta to make her own 'pasta salad.'  She tries all the food hacks listed here. She makes grilled peanut butter and banana sandwiches using the conveyor belt toaster. At first, you admire her creativity but after a certain point it just kind of gets gross.

The thief

This person has more Tupperware than a 1950s housewife. Technically, you aren't supposed to take any food from the school cafeteria, but most people will grab the occasional apple, banana, or orange to snack on between classes. Others, however, more out of an urge to get their parents' money's worth out of the price of the meal plan than hunger, will go much further.  They begin with taking containers of cereal from the cereal bar. Then bread, crackers, dried fruits and nuts.  The Rubbermaid carafes of milk for said cereal follow (which can be kept cold on a windowsill). Even salad components like cheese cubes and nuts are fair game. The only thing that the thief doesn't steal is meat or hot food.  Oddly enough, this person, despite all the stocking up, still goes to regular meals...though his attitude would seem to suggest an attempt to only darken the door of the cafeteria on a weekly basis.

The best heist I ever saw took place my freshman year when a group of kids on my dorm room floor stole an entire industrial drum-sized container of ice cream for the birthday party of a friend. We were all so impressed but it was still pretty crappy ice cream. But we were stickin' it to the MoConn Man (the name of the school cafeteria) so that made it all worth it.

The critic

This person's mother was a great cook and so he spends the entire meal time complaining about the food and saying how it isn't as good as what he ate at home, or just looking silently horrified at other people's meals. He is likely from a European family that valued food or a non-Western food culture, which makes lurid cafeteria food appear even more alien to his eyes. This also means that the junky staples that get other kids through the day like French fries don't appeal to him.  He eats lots of rice or pasta (depending on his ethnicity) and lives for the care packages his grandmother sends him so he doesn't starve.

 Missing in action

After the first week of orientation, this person often lapses into a totally nocturnal schedule. She might show up for coffee at breakfast (or lunch) if she is so unfortunate as to have morning classes but is usually too tired to eat.  She keeps bags of junk food in the dorm like Oreos and Pop Tarts and orders in pizza or hoagies.  Her parents cry when they see the food bill she runs up and the fact that the meal plan they purchased has gone totally to waste.

The anorexic

The anorexic often eats alone, usually some sort of meal cobbled together from the salad bar that can be calorie-controlled like celery and cottage cheese.  Maybe a container of fat free yogurt, if available. The fact that she can't be sure if the cottage cheese is fat free and the absence of controlled portions worries her.  Usually this only lasts for one semester and then she discovers beer which leads to drunk, compensation binge eating rather than drunk sex like most of her classmates.

The frat boy

Knows all of the inexpensive food joints to eat at around campus not because he is cheap, but to allow more money in the beer budget.

The special diet

Vegan, vegetarian, kosher, gluten-free, allergic. Regardless of what this kid's obsession of choice might be, he is really, really annoying about it and talks about it all the time because 'how' he eats is such a crucial part of his identity as a teen or young adult.  Don't worry.  This phase will pass.

One note: no one, and I mean, no one goes low-carb in college. Maybe low-calorie.  Alcohol contains carbs as does pizza and vending machine food.  So no one does low-carb.

The foodie

This type is relatively new and did not exist when I was in college. This person critiques his or her cafeteria food, lobbies for more healthy and vegan options, dines out around campus at interesting ethnic restaurants, and has a food blog which showcases pictures of food. They are barely twenty years old and don't own a toaster but can talk with great authority about the locavore movement, the secret menu at In-And-Out, and why you should use room temperature butter when baking.


  1. I lived at home during Univserity and for my first few years only ate lunch on campus. We had a nice cafeteria that wasn't owned by chains, that was reasonably priced. We still only ever ordered the Chinese food option and chilli cheese fries (not at the same time) instead of the healthier fair. After my brief hiatus/academic suspension the cafeteria was overrun by overpriced chain food that we didn't want to eat. So we spent most lunches at Mcdonalds (or Harveys) and Mr.Sub (Like subway) oh and Wendy's at least once a weak. To say we ate unhealthy is a bit of an understatement Those days that McDonalds had their Monopoly promotion, we were eating it for both lunch and dinner....

    1. I think more college students don't eat McDonald's because many colleges (in the U.S.) are in fairly remote areas and it can be hard to get off campus to the big chains. There was a Burger King within walking distance of Wesleyan but the food was actually pretty good at Wes (except for the mandatory freshman dining hall, after which you could dine at the other options). Very few people ventured there--although, being a New England area school, Dunkin' Donuts was extremely popular study food fare.

      I loved the Monopoly and Olympic McD games as a kid!

    2. (I hit the wrong reply button)

      See the key phrase there is "as a kid." :) In my 20s, in university, my friend and I would leave campus to get dinner and say to ourselves... "Well we had McDonalds for lunch, so we should probably eat something healthier for dinner... buuuuuuuut... McDonalds has Monopoly" and then promptly turn into the McD's parking lot :).

    3. A friend of mine went to Princeton University (a supposedly smart school) and the 'frat guy' eating club (this was back when the school had eating clubs) decided to allocate their food budget for the year solely to cheap hot dogs so they could buy more beer. So I totally get what you are saying and if it is any consolation, most college guys probably ate even worse :)

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  3. I lived at home during college so I ate like a normal person. Mostly what I remember about the college cafeterias are the bran muffins, which were actually good, although I think that's because they were about 3/4 molasses. Sometimes when school got to be too much, I would cut class and go to the fish and chip place on the lake. I always tried to arrive 15 minutes before they opened because that's when the lines started to form and the lines weren't just people, but also ducks. Right before opening, the employees would open the ordering windows and throw the previous day's leftover fries out to them. Those ducks waiting in line was the cutest thing ever.

    1. Wow, quite a bit of my readership lived at home during college. Not only was that financially sensible, you managed to avoid some of the scarier eating habits I lapsed into at times. My school cafeteria also had wonderful muffins, probably the best I have ever eaten and bran muffins are great 'totally unhealthy yet you can convince yourself they are healthy' food. I liked mine with lots of butter. That is so sweet that they fed the ducks at that chippy!

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