The Culture and Customs of Eating at a U.S. University

One of the biggest indicators of a culture is its food. If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you probably loved sampling the different foods in the new country you were visiting. However, it’s different when you’re actually living abroad somewhere new. If you study abroad at a U.S. university, part of your experience will involve learning about and adapting to the typical foods eaten in the States. You’ll also want to become aware of the unique culture and customs of eating on an American college campus.  Let’s break down a day in the life of a hungry American college student.

Before class in the morning


Every culture has its own breakfast traditions, from tea or coffee to toast or fruits. On an American college campus, a typical student’s breakfast will most likely include a very large cup of coffee from a place like Starbucks (we like everything big in the U.S.!), often with fancy flavorings and even whipped cream. Cereal is a common breakfast food for students eating at home, but on the go, they grab things like a toasted bagel with cream cheese or a hot breakfast sandwich with egg, sausage and cheese.





Lunch time


Most college campuses have fast food restaurants where students can easily get a quick bite between classes. Some common fast food chains you’ll see here that you may not have at home include Qdoba (Mexican food, like burritos), Pita Pit (Mediterranean), Jimmy John’s (sandwiches), Domino’s (pizza) and Five Guys (burgers). Be careful though; eating too much fast food your first year of university can lead to the kind of weight gain known on campus as the “freshman 15!”






Between classes: snacks and coffee 


In the afternoon, energy might start to get low, so for many students it’s time for more coffee, or even an energy drink. Students might also stop by a vending machine for an unhealthy snack like potato chips, or a healthier campus café to buy a muffin, yogurt or fruit/vegetable smoothie. Then, back to class!








For dinner, some students may have purchased a meal plan (usually with their on-campus housing), which means they can eat in cafeterias on campus, called dining halls.  Dining halls will have lots of different foods to choose from, such as salads, burgers, pizza, Asian stir-fry, sandwiches and desserts. These days dining halls are serving healthier options, too, including vegetarian/vegan meals, to accommodate a range of diet preferences.

Students who cook in their dorm room or apartment usually opt for cheap and easy staple meals like spaghetti, packaged macaroni and cheese, Ramen noodles (just add hot water!), or frozen meals that can be easily microwaved, like Hot Pockets (meat and cheese turnovers).



Late night noshing


“Noshing” is an informal word that usually means snacking or eating with enthusiasm. Chances are you’ll find yourself doing this if you’re up late studying or hanging out with friends. At this hour, pizza is a usually the snack of choice, since it can be delivered right to your dorm room or apartment with a quick call or click.
Now you’re prepared for the culture of eating on a U.S. university campus. And don’t worry, when you need a little taste of home, you probably won’t have to look too far to find food from your own country, since the United States is known for being a “melting pot” of diverse cultures.

Want to learn English on a US university campus? Learn more here: