Use these tips, tricks when visiting UI dining halls

Students+enter+the+PAR+dining+hall+for+a+late+night+meal+on+May+1%2C+2018.

The Daily Illini File Photo

Students enter the PAR dining hall for a late night meal on May 1, 2018.

By Andrew Prozorovsky, Opinions Editor

College is the first time an incoming student will be completely responsible for his or herself, no longer under the supervision of his or her parents or guardians. 

Many students, spending at least one year in University housing, naturally understand this means organizing his or her own diet. These dietary choices are delimited, though, by the daily menu of the dining halls and the inventory of places accepting cafe credits. 

Fortunately, there are five dining halls on campus available to those in University housing, which can create some amount of option paralysis. The below tips and tricks serve to help the naive student navigate the dining options in order to structure the ideal diet in the eyes of the individual.

On the western side of campus, the lone dining hall is the Ike. The Ike stands as an example of the trade-offs that exist in every dining hall. Those who eat at the Ike will find that it has more options than any one dining hall but is often more congested and plagued by longer lines (especially during popular meal times). But Ike does have an especially delicious dessert section. Conversely, Busey-Evans dining hall is much smaller but enjoys a quieter atmosphere. 

Although the Ike is currently the biggest dining hall on campus, the title may soon be usurped by ISR’s new dining hall, whose grand opening is this August.

The eastern side of campus is far more exciting and diverse than its counterpart, given the numerous dining halls agglomerated there.

PAR is the favorite to students who opt not to eat at the Ike, mainly for its reliable stir-fry station and “Late-Night PAR.” Late-Night PAR is dinner served at PAR’s dining hall from 8 p.m. to midnight, making it the latest dining hall open. Furthermore, PAR Late-Night generally consists of comfort foods, which keep students returning. PAR also has a wide variety of options throughout the day and is one of the bigger and newer dining halls on campus.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Late-Night PAR and stir-fry will not be available.

Just across the street, one can find FAR’s dining hall. What is unique about FAR’s dining hall is its obsession with themed nights. Monday and Wednesday nights are “FAR Out Pizza,” where one can have a custom pizza made. Every Tuesday night features breakfast for dinner, where one can have a custom omelet made, and every Thursday night specializes in soul food. For these reasons, most students squeeze in a trip to FAR’s dining hall at least once a week, as there is something for everyone.

Nearby is LAR’s dining hall, which tailors to those with special kosher needs. But LAR contains a second dining hall: the less popular, hidden gem of campus that is Field of Greens. Field of Greens advertises as dining for vegans and vegetarians, but it is the best food on campus. It has the freshest fruits, avocado toast and a glorious panini station. Additionally, Field of Greens is open from 11 a.m.-6:30 p.m. without respite and always has a stir-fry station open as well as the only smoothie bar that can be found in a dining hall. You can always ask to have a custom smoothie made!

But Field of Greens transforms on Monday nights into “Dish,” where dining hall workers take your order and serve you like a sit-down restaurant. Usually Dish has a pretty rigid and restricted menu, so don’t expect amazing variety, but the quality of food and service is worth it.

Finally, a few bits of wisdom from experience with the dining halls. First, be sure to mix it up often. Even if you enjoy a certain food, eating it every day because it’s easy will make you enjoy your week and the food itself less. Stir-fry gets boring if you eat it every day. 

All menus for this semester’s dining halls will be identical and incorporate the special restaurants such as Field of Greens and DISH as they won’t be available on their own due to the pandemic.

Second, each meal plan includes a number of cafe credits. These are great for procuring snacks and quick to-go food, but be sure to conserve your credits so you’re not out of them halfway through the week.

Third, find a consistent time to eat. The week can get stressful, but don’t forgo meals because it doesn’t feel like there is time. Maybe it is necessary to schedule time specifically during the week for eating, but make sure you are making healthy eating choices not just in portion size or food quality but in habits as well.

Lastly, go outside of your comfort zone. As you begin adulthood, it’s time to adjust your eating habits for the better. No one is here to meal plan for you or to push you to try new foods; you’ll have to do that yourself.

Although these guidelines apply to a normal school year, 2020 is indefatigably dedicated to being abnormal. Therefore, the necessary COVID-19 caveats must be addressed, although few know what to expect. 

Eight bullet points are included on the University’s COVID-19 page regarding University dining, which outlines the anomalous procedures for dining this semester. Menus may be changed, dining hours altered and meals may be take-out only in some circumstances. This fundamentally alters the university dining experience, but fingers crossed that the temporary change doesn’t have to exist for long.

The University dining halls vary greatly, thankfully, which is a privilege many colleges do not enjoy. To pay the university back (aside from tuition), be patient and kind with dining staff and make good choices. If you adhere to these guidelines, hopefully you’ll exit your freshman year having avoided the dreaded “Freshman 15.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated there are nine dining halls on campus. There are five. The article was also updated to reflect the dining hall options during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Andrew is a junior in LAS.

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