One of my biggest worries when going off to college and leaving home was the food. I’d heard all sorts of horror stories from older friends—one friend came home over winter break saying that she loved college, but the food was like doughy rocks; another said she literally only ate at her dining hall about once a week.
Naturally, I was terrified. Food is pretty important in my family. Most of my friends’ families around middle school began to eat at different times, but my family sat down for dinner together almost every day of the week all throughout my four years of high school. My family is slightly Italian-American on my dad’s side, meaning that he’s from Long Island, is a great cook and has stories about a man called Uncle Mike, but doesn’t speak much Italian at all. Despite being so Americanized, however, cooking in the kitchen and eating dinner together remained something of an important ritual.
Sitting at the kitchen counter and taste-testing as my parents cooked was an old habit for me. Even now, after having come home for the summer, I still plop myself down by the counter and steal slices of ingredients before they get to the pan. Homemade pizza is one of the best foods to make fresh at home. When I was younger, my parents would make the dough in the afternoon and leave it covered in saran wrap on the stairs to rise. My dad would then stretch the dough, first with his hands, then wider and wider in the air. I was always so amazed by this, sitting wide-eyed in the kitchen with corn meal all over the counter and the smell of dough everywhere. It was better than TV.
If I was lucky, I’d get to help spread the sauce, or even slice the mozzarella if I agreed not to eat any. That was a tough promise to make, though. We’d decide on toppings, which would vary depending on the night and what was in the refrigerator. Sometimes Dad would slice leftover sausage into pieces and sprinkle it over half the pizza; once we added bits of pineapple just to see if my mom and sister would notice. (They tasted something sweet, but couldn’t guess what it was.) And although there were some rare, unusual topping combinations that weren’t great, our homemade pizzas were otherwise always a hit. The crust was thin and brushed with olive oil, each slice hot and fresh out of the oven. Other dinners at home were equally delicious, from spaghetti to pork chops to curry.
Coming from a family where food is placed so importantly, I was worried when I heard these tales of doughy rocks. And despite so much time in the kitchen, my role was usually only to slice the lettuce or something along those lines—otherwise I’m not a spectacular cook. I can make macaroni, tuna salad, and cookies, but that’s about the limit of my cooking ability. Although I figured at worst I could eat peanut butter sandwiches, I was definitely hoping it wouldn’t have to come to that.
So when I got to school, I was interested in checking out the dining hall. After all, I was wondering what I would be eating these next few years. I found that the food was edible, if often fried and repetitive, with some exceptions including the more creative fish dishes. I even found that there was a whole separate section for pizza. Although the pizza at school was not quite as good as the ones my dad made, the dining hall pizza made up for this by being available all the time, and often having what soon became my favorite topping (zucchini).
As for the days when I got tired of the food in the dining hall, which seems to happen at every school, no matter where, there were certain little ways to make it easier. Cooking or finding familiar foods always helped—I like having a package of ramen on hand, the same brand that my mom cooks at home, for days when I want something familiar.
There’s also always comfort food. Most people think of fries or chocolate as comfort foods, and I’m certainly not one to turn down chocolate in any situation. But I found that since my family always had salad after dinner, having salad with dinner at school the first couple weeks helped me feel like something was normal in an unfamiliar place. I became somewhat known among my friends for my spinach salad with olives, if there were any that day. And although I was sometimes teased by friends who don’t like olives, the salad bar helped me feel both more familiar and healthy in a new place. And when all else fails, there’s always takeout.
Click here for more student discounts!
Download the Campus Clipper App from iTunes!