Savor the nachos plus, but pass on dining hall mystery meats

How's it going, freshman? From the looks of things, you're doing just fine. You haven't fallen out of your loft yet. You're still dressing up for class, which we need to work on by the way, but at least you're finding the classrooms without too many problems. You survived your first football weekend - though you may not remember it. These things can all be picked up on fast. After all, we are in college. It's the dining halls that may take a bit longer to get used to. 


UW-Madison's dining halls are a double-edged sword, which is a phrase I fail to understand. Aren't all swords double-edged? If it only had one edge, wouldn't it be a machete, or a really big knife? 


Unlike most Midwestern schools, the UW dining halls work on a pay-per-item system. As a small girl who tends to eat out a lot, this meal plan saved me a lot of money. The extensive hours, convenient locations, delivery service and extensive variety are other positive aspects of University Housing food. For athletes and those with larger appetites, the pay-per-item system is pretty rough - I had one friend who ate $10 worth of food at every meal. Another negative aspect of food service is the limited variety of food available for vegetarians, vegans and students with medical or religious dietary restrictions. Whatever your situation, your best bet is to check out all the dining halls around campus, always keep an eye out for free food and raid your parents' pantry whenever you have a chance. 


First and foremost, take advantage of all the fruits and vegetables the dining halls have to offer. The salad bar and fruit baskets may not seem very impressive now, but wait until these items are out of season and your off-campus study partner starts eyeing up your orange rinds. The state subsidizes certain food items through housing, which means you get fruits and veggies for the same great price year round, unlike local supermarkets. Liz Waters hall has the best produce selection by far, with a double salad bar and full-sized fruit rack available everyday during lunch. If you don't live in Liz Waters, be sure to check your class schedule carefully - you're probably in the general vicinity at least a few lunch hours a week, and it's well worth a visit. 


Be wary of dining hall meat - especially in stir-fry or hotdish form. When chefs smother chicken in peanut sauce and serve it over white rice, it usually means they have something to hide. A good rule of thumb is to avoid any protein you have a hard time identifying. Remember freshmen, Salisbury is the name of a hill that Peter Gabriel would like to take us to, not any sort of steak we should consume. I would stick to the sandwich bar when it comes to dining hall meat - it's affordable and you can see exactly what you're going to be eating. I would also recommend the pizza station or salad bar to help increase protein consumption. Both are a little sparse in the meat department, but what they do offer is tasty and changes daily. 


Starches are by far the best deal offered by University Housing. The breads, English muffins, bagels and hard rolls are incredibly cheap, and everything you need to turn them into a substantial meal can be found at the wonderful condiment stands located directly behind the checkouts. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are practically free, and a bagel with cream cheese, tomatoes and onion can be enjoyed for less than a dollar. The baked potatoes are another starch you must not overlook. Load one up with free sour cream and salsa, and you'll be full for hours. 


Dining hall desserts are generally delicious, though not terribly good buys. When I lived in housing, I made sure to reward myself with dessert once in a while, and by once in a while I mean three to four times a day. Regardless of how often you indulge, make sure to try the double chocolate cookies, raspberry crumble and scrumptious dirt cake. The caramel cake with fluffy frosting is another must-try - it leaves you feeling naughty yet satisfied, like I imagine a night with Clive Owen would. 


University Housing food has its positives and negatives, much like the university itself. If you spend wisely, try new things and get lots of fruits and veggies, then maneuvering the dining halls should be no problem. And make sure to eat as many nachos plus as possible - you'll be living on your own before you know it.  

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