How to Survive Dining Halls as a Picky Eater

Ever since I was young, I redefined what people thought of as a picky eater. When I told people I was extremely picky they would often respond with phrases such as, “me too!” not understanding the full extent of my ‘condition.’ It was not until I elaborated on what I do and do not eat that they were completely shocked and sometimes even humored. To provide context on exactly how picky I am, I do not like soups, salads, seafood, Asian cuisine (including rice), eggs and all sandwiches, except the classic PB&J on white bread with smooth peanut butter and grape jelly of course. Another problem emerges here that what I will eat has to follow highly specific guidelines. For example, I love pasta, but my pasta must have no sauce, no meat, no butter, no oil, no parsley, NO NOTHING on my noodles! Requirements like these are basically second nature to me.  

Eating like this was an easy task in high school with packed lunches and most of my meals made by myself at home. To claim that college came as a shock to my system would be an understatement. At first glance, the cafeteria seemed manageable for me. I would NOT starve! Taking a second look though, a wide variety of options did exist but options consisting of making a sub, stir fry, pre-buttered pasta, a salad bar, burgers, breakfast omelets and many more that would not match well with my taste buds. Don’t get me wrong I did discover pizza without chunky sauce, chicken tenders at least twice a week, a plain cheese quesadilla station and build your own Belgium waffle that would satisfy my hunger, but these options were limited nonetheless.  

I’m currently on week five of dining halls and have been eating at least two meals a day.  Typically these meals result in rotating between four options and have become utterly horrible. After eating a slice of the identical cheese pizza for the fourth time in a week, the taste becomes immediately repulsive. I realized the harsh reality that this was the food I needed to eat for the next three months before Christmas though! I needed to change something and fast. These are the three changes I have made to eating on campus in order to survive the dining halls with my oversensitive taste buds.  

  1. 1. Find a really good and extensive grocery store, and FAST

    Finding a grocery store near me was a game-changer. Having certain types, brands and flavors of specific foods I will eat; one could say that I rely on the grocery store A LOT. I have ended up eating a majority of my meals in my dorm whether it be snacks, breakfast, lunch or dinner. A grocery store empowers me to select what I like and what foods I am familiar with and comfortable with.  

  2. 2. Ask the dining hall workers to change things if possible!

    This was hard for me at first. These people are intimidating as they rarely strike up a conversation with any of the students they serve. Yet when I asked the quesadilla station worker if I could just have plain cheese instead of the sauce too they were more than happy to comply. Simply asking gave me another option at the dining hall when I don’t have the time to trek it all the way back to my dorm.

  3. 3. Order pots and utensils to make simple meals yourself 

    This was a must...mainly because I do not like microwavable meals at all! After purchasing a pot I was finally able to make my butterless pasta. I did encounter a small snafu the first time I made pasta when I forgot a spoon and had to resort to a mechanical pencil to stir it properly, but after that, a spoon was subsequently ordered and my pasta has been a go-to meal for me. I have since ordered a pizza cutter and am hoping to order a frying pan soon for pancakes! 

Overall, the dining halls a massive adjustment and realization for me. Seeming shiny and new at first I thought I would be able to make it easily throughout the year, but I soon realized that rotating between the same four meals was just not an option. Applying these three tips to my personal life I now go to the dining halls about three to four times a week which is extremely more manageable. So to all the picky eaters out there who are also struggling- try these three tricks and, trust me, you will be able to survive college without angering your picky taste buds too.