The Collegian
Saturday, April 13, 2024

What are first-years eating?

<p>Pie chart depicting data collected from the survey.</p>

Pie chart depicting data collected from the survey.

During my first month as a first-year at the University of Richmond, I was faced with many challenges, including finding food that I liked. Having never eaten at the Heilman Dining Center nor the other dining institutions on campus, I was puzzled. Which food was the best, and which food should I avoid? Many other first-years are currently facing this same challenge. We are one month into college, so I was curious: What have first-years at UR been eating? 

To answer my question, I made a survey through Instagram, asking students what their go-to food has been while living at UR. The survey was available for 24 hours. During that time, 70 first-years responded to an open-ended question, “What is your favorite food on campus?” I then categorized the results by dining institution. Although the front runner was various dining hall savory meals, specific dishes such as fries and Spider Chicken stood out enough to qualify as separate categories for my data organization. Below is a pie chart representing the data I collected.

Many first-years also mentioned how much they love the new GrubHub option, which allows customers to order ahead for pickup from their favorite on-campus institutions using their dining dollars. 

“[GrubHub is] just so convenient,” first-year Lily Von Spreckelsen wrote explaining that “you can see everything on the menu, choose what you want, and when you get there the food it’s already ready”

french toast lake

Heilman dining center breakfast by the lake. Courtesy of Grace Davis

The dining hall also has limited options compared to years past because of COVID-19 policies. First-years are aware that the experience is much more limited, however because first-year students never experienced the “pre-pandemic” dining hall, they do not know exactly what is missing. “I wasn’t able to experience the dining hall pre-pandemic,” first-year Claire Blankenship writes, “However, many upperclassmen have told me that there are fewer options for everyone.”

Hoping to find the foodies on campus, I asked students to submit their best campus food photography on Instagram. Those who have a vested interest in cooking and food aesthetics submitted an array of photographs, including pictures of Tyler’s Grill french toast and dining hall containers by the lake. 

Some first-years have gotten creative by making their own lunches.


Tyler’s Grill french toast. Courtesy of Anum Merchant

 First-year Aiden Hills sent in his picture of vamped up Everything Convenience instant ramen, mixed with some extra ingredients. 

In addition to pictures, some first-years filled out a Google form attached to my Instagram story and shared some of their thoughts on the dining experience this semester. Many first-years, such as Annie Waters, appreciate the UR dining staff’s hard work accommodating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Waters wrote in her response to the Google form: “I would definitely like to have more options, but I appreciate all of the work that the foodservice staff is putting into dining accommodations for this semester.”  

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Homemade Ramen. Courtesy of Aiden Hills

The restricted dining options affected some respondents to the Google form more than others. 

One first-year, Grace Davis, has many allergies and her dietary restrictions limit her food options, she wrote. 

“I am allergic to a lot of the options which forces me to eat really small amounts of food or have to purchase from Tyler’s,” Davis wrote. She further elaborated explaining many Dhall meals contain her allergens, and at Tyler’s, there is more variety in terms of food she can safely eat. 

Additionally, some students limit their diet for religious or personal reasons. For students who try to be health-conscious or follow a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle, tofu can be a staple source of protein. Unfortunately, some students, like first-year, Ally Palalay, feel that the tofu offered on campus is not the tastiest. 

She wrote, “I love tofu, but sometimes the tofu is a bit overcooked and rubbery, which is really hard to enjoy,”  Palalay also said. “It’s very easy to undereat some days.” 

First-years have nothing to compare their current campus dining experience to, but they know that this type of campus dining is not quite the norm. Food is a huge part of many people’s lifestyles; it can be something that connects people to their cultures or something people have to pay more careful attention to due to dietary restrictions. The UR dining hall experience may continue to evolve as we move into the orange stage; it remains to be seen how this will affect first-year students. 

Contact lifestyle writer Lillian Tzanev at 

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