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Working With What You’ve Got: Getting the Most Out of Dining Hall Food

One of the hardest aspects of my college transition has been creating a new food routine: eating mindfully, eating well, and making sure that my eating is coming from a good place. As someone who has struggled with disordered eating in the past, I was especially nervous about having to make all my own food choices—eating is a big responsibility, especially when you can’t always trust yourself to do it. Luckily, I have found relative success in Kenyon’s one and only dining hall, Peirce Hall (named after a person, hence the unique spelling), and it has largely come from having three to four “recipes” in my back pocket. Sometimes the prepared food doesn’t look good, or sometimes the lines are just too long. Either way, here are my tips and tricks for enhancing your meals, and maybe discovering some new ones. 

My top recommendation is to make use of both sides of the salad bar. Almost every day, I will make some sort of grain/salad bowl–when the quinoa is out, know that somewhere, I am very upset. I like to start with one or two spoonfuls of quinoa, and then add in rotisserie chicken if they have it. If you don’t eat meat, you can choose to add tofu or supplement with another form of protein. From there I’ll get some greens; last Sunday there was arugula, which was wonderful, but usually I just go for spinach. The veggies can be sort of a free-for-all, although the limited size of bowls (Peirce, give us big salad bowls!) will inhibit you to a degree. I almost always get tomatoes, and I finish things off with a healthy serving of black beans. One day there were kalamata olives, and I shall never forget it. If you’re lucky enough to be fixing your meal on a day such as that one, I highly encourage you to take advantage of that luxury. Lastly, for a dressing, I drizzle olive oil and apple cider vinegar to help with digestion. Add salt once you sit, cut up your greens, mix everything together, and you have a wonderful bowl of food that can serve as a meal, side, or snack!

Up next is my most treasured meal: the yogurt bowl. I do indeed eat yogurt every morning, and it has proved invaluable to creating a routine at college. I have never been strong enough to eat just plain yogurt, so I stick with the berry flavor, but let me be specific: I will only eat the berry yogurt if it is very clearly plain yogurt that has been flavored with jam. Sometimes they put out yogurt that looks suspiciously like Yoplait, and on those days, I will fill my bowl with plain yogurt and simply use the jam at the toast station to flavor my bowl. Once you have your delicious, probiotic-filled base, it’s time to move on to toppings. I like to keep it simple: cover the yogurt with Rice Krispie granola (I personally find the maple too sweet, but it is also a good option) and I am all set, but I would encourage readers to experiment with toppings from the oatmeal station, or maybe cut up a banana. I pair my yogurt with two hard-boiled eggs, and by 9 AM I’ve had enough protein to outlift any Kenyon football player, but your yogurt could also be a wonderful compliment to some pumpkin bread, tater tots, or biscuit. The world is your oyster!

My love for the Peirce granola runs incredibly deep!

My last meal idea is a cream cheese, veggie-packed bagel sandwich. I start with a plain toasted bagel and lather it with the Amish’s frankly unparalleled cream cheese, then make my way over to the sandwich bar. Here I will add some sliced salami, cucumber, tomato, and red onion, and just like that, I have a wonderful, fresh lunch. The bagels here are nothing like the ones I’m used to at home (no, I’m not from New York City, but if you’re ever in Charlottesville, VA, you can go to Bodos Bagels and see what I’m talking about), but when you supplement with enough of your favorite fixings, they do the job just as well as any other sandwich-like-vehicle. 

In closing, I have some smaller so-called hacks for getting a good meal out of Peirce. First and foremost, if nothing looks good, head over to the soup station. They are always tasty (I don’t know how that consistency occurs, to be completely honest), and many of them are usually packed with veggies. Additionally, most meals can be enhanced with toppings (namely cheese) from the salad bar: when they served ravioli, the night of the North campus power outage, I found my food was much enhanced by some grated parmesan. If you’re seeking well-toasted toast, all you need to do is send it through twice, flipped the second time. Yes, the toaster should toast our bread completely after only one attempt, but at a certain point, we have to work with what we’ve got. 

Shun Matsuhashi / Spoon

Soup! My favorites are the white bean and kale and chicken and rice.

Lastly, I want to emphasize a fundamental aspect of food: it’s only sustenance. You are not determined by what you eat, how much you eat, or when you eat. While I love everything I’ve written about, you may not, and that’s completely fine. What is most important is that you eat what your body tells you to and that you enjoy your meals. Peirce is a happy place, and we should reflect that to the best of our ability, along with whatever’s on our plates. 

Margaret Anne is a first year at Kenyon, hoping to major in English? Maybe? We shall see. She enjoys singing, napping, and laughing.
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