Northern Star




Northern Star

Northern Illinois University’s student news organization since 1899


Ensure student journalism survives. Donate today.

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

NIU eats 53,000 pounds of chicken tenders

Nyla Owens
Two chicken Strips from The Grill at Stevenson Dining Center sit out on a desk. Students can order a five-piece chicken strip with any side choice and a drink for at the dining center for one meal swipe. (Nyla Owens | Northern Star)

DeKALB – NIU has eaten around 53,000 pounds of chicken tenders, 116,000 pounds of french fries last year. 

Daniel Koenen, executive director for Campus Dining Services, took this amount from the 2022-2023 dining hall orders. Koenen said there are two reasons for the items’ popularity.

“It’s been something we’ve done for a long time,” Koenen said. “So we just know that chicken tenders, fries, pizza are popular items to have; and if students aren’t really excited about what’s on the main entree line or what’s on the expo station, they always have chicken tenders, fries, the salad bar, pizza as a go-to if something else isn’t appealing to them.”

Patterson Dining and Neptune Dining are both all-you-care-to-eat dining centers, which allow students with any meal plan to have as much as they “care to eat.”

A meal swipe at the Stevenson Retail Dining Center only gets an entree, a side and a drink. In addition, Stevenson Dining only serves personal-sized pizza instead of slices like in the other cafeterias.

While the all-you-care-to-eat dining halls let students eat as much as they can, Koenen says dining staff still limit the amount of food that gets served.

“We try to give a portion size for everything we serve, and our goal there is to reduce food waste because sometimes people’s eyes are bigger than their stomach,” Koenen said. “And we invite students to come back as many times as they want. So, if we give them three chicken tenders, and they want some more, they can just come up and get them.”

Allie Dempsey, a graduate student and nutrition education coordinator, said students should consider food that’s good for their health even if the other items are more desirable.

“It’s definitely hard because those are foods that people gravitate towards, they’re comfortable with,” Dempsey said. “We’re always trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables and fiber rich foods into those (options). That’s why it’s harder to – you have to walk past the salad bar and walk past the hot food line to be able to get to the more comfortable foods.”

She hopes students can look to include more vegetables into their diet if they do grab a slice of pizza.

For those who’ve questioned why different dining halls have served different varieties of fries or tenders, Koenen says it’s due to the distributor.

Campus Dining Services supplies all of its food from Gordon Food Services. Koenen said many brands don’t have their own food distribution source, so GFS acts as the main food distributor for several brands, including the Starbucks in the Holmes Student Center and Einstein Bros. Bagels in Founders Memorial Library.

“So we don’t buy one specific chicken tender from GFS (Gordon Food Services) every week,” Koenen said. “Most of the chicken tenders come from what is called opportunity buys. Let’s say Arby’s, I think the chicken tenders – some of them are an Arby’s product – that the manufacturer made too many for Arby’s, so then they put them out on the open market for anybody to buy, not branded as Arby’s chicken tenders, just chicken tenders.”

Koenen said the reason Patterson and Neptune’s dining menus are different is so students can have more meal choices.

“It just gives them more options,” Koenen said. “So, if they want to go on to the website and see what Neptune’s serving today, and they want to look at Patterson, then they can decide where to go.”

Students have other reasons for frequenting the pizza line.

Lyka Algan, a senior English major, said she had ordered pizza frequently at the dining hall; but now, she only orders it as a second option if she doesn’t like the choices on the daily menu.

“Back in the Philippines, pizzas are expensive, right? So when I got here first, like, during the first week, I got so thrilled; but then like after the first week, I don’t like it anymore,” Algan said. “And basically, that side is always, well, I treat it as a Plan B.”

Maddox Kuzel, a senior art education major, said the dining hall’s choices tend to be limited if you don’t like what’s on the menu for the day.

“They (Campus Dining Services) serve the chicken tenders and pizza for lunch and dinner,” Kuzel said. “So that’s also going to make the numbers go up because it’s being served for two different times of the day. I also don’t think a lot of people don’t enjoy spicy food or ethnic food, and that’s what this side focuses on more than the pizza.”

With an ever changing menu, the selection won’t always fit everyone’s palette, but Koenen said the staff is prepared to change the menu when an item isn’t favored.

“Our main focus is on what did the students eat, and what didn’t they eat and for the items that we go through a lot of, we will try to ‘menu’ those more,” Koenen said.

More to Discover