Dining halls need to offer more fresh options

By Chris Grask

Campus dining is falling short when it comes to offering fresh and diverse options for NIU students due to budget restrictions. While new restaurants and more culinary options has been presented in recent years, the limited amount of fresh options has students turning to takeout, according to a Sept. 10 Northern Star article.

Feeding students and offering healthy options are the most important responsibilities of campus dining. However, quality and access to resources is an issue the dining hall struggles with.

“Our most popular items, such as pizza, [chicken] tenders and fries, come in frozen,” Executive Director of Campus Dining Dan Koenen said, “I would love to do all fresh, but we have to fit our budget.”

The dining halls offer a fresh salad bar and an assortment of fresh vegetables. Koenen said one thing the dining hall pride themselves on is fresh broccoli.

Frozen foods are to be expected of any campus dining experience. This isn’t a five-star restaurant; they are serving from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. to many students. However, diverse menu changes, such as Tai or Indian options, would be a major step toward including and valuing the palette of students.

“I would like for us to not use as much frozen vegetables when we cook meals. Since we’re in DeKalb near a bunch of farms, we could use that food,” junior biology major Latiya Spencer said.

Buying locally grown vegetables is a trend that has gained major traction in recent years, according to an August 2015 Fortune’s article. Local foods generate $11 billion in 2014 and are expected to generated nearly $20 billion in 2019.

“We do not work with local farm stands,” Koenen said. “We would love to, but we have to fit our budget.”

If NIU were to partner with local farmers and offer more locally grown produce, it would provide a great way to connect the community, support local businesses and agriculture and give students healthier options. Koenen said a restrictive budget has the dining administration unable to make this switch, preventing them from meeting the needs of consumers.

“We are never satisfied in what we offer, whether it be retail or speed of service,” Koenen said. “We always welcome input from the students.”

Recently, the culinary department has expanded from the lackluster and bland options to savory dishes, such as paninis and flatbreads at Sandella’s in Dusable Hall that opened at the start of the fall semester.

“I would say [the dining hall] has a nice variety,” junior journalism major Hailey Galler said. ‘I like that they’re vegetarian and vegan-friendly.”

Despite these efforts, culinary options need to be expanded more; Italian sausage subs and stewed cabbage aren’t going to cut it when it comes to having more diverse options.

Dining services is struggling to maintain the freshest and healthiest options for students. Their limited budget and lack of fresh products makes it hard to satisfy the student body.