May 1, 2017

Best in Class

Top-ranked dining at UMass Amherst is healthy, sustainable, delicious, local, and fast

Sushi, sushi, and more sushi—4,000 rolls are prepared every day and gobbled up in UMass Amherst’s dining commons. “It is by far our most popular item,” says Ken Toong, executive director of auxiliary enterprises, who oversees the university’s on-campus dining program that serves more than 50,000 meals a day and is one of the largest campus dining services in the country. After hovering among top-ranked schools in the country for campus food in recent years, UMass Dining finally captured the number one spot in this year’s 2017 Best Campus Food rankings by The Princeton Review.

It takes more than just great sushi to be the best. Healthy, sustainable, delicious, local, and fast help describe UMass Dining, says Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining. Serving 21,000 students a day, plus faculty and staff, a wide variety of foods is another hallmark of UMass Dining.

“Food can enrich campus life and create community.”

Guest chefs are hosted throughout the year to showcase their specialties and highlight regional cuisines. Special meals featuring seasonal, cultural, holiday, and other themes are prepared weekly, plus 15 global cuisines are offered every day, providing plenty of variety. Students with special dietary needs and allergies will also find ample healthy and tasty selections. Stir-fry stations, also widely popular, are not only quick and give students the variety, customization, and the fresh ingredients they want, they are also highly efficient and help reduce food waste, which students say is important to them.

“As a vegan, I look forward to eating on campus because there are many dining options that meet my diet,” says senior art history major Caroline Riley. Dining Services closely follows the healthy, sustainable, delicious, local, and fast food model. Thirty percent of produce is locally sourced, 100 percent of beef is from grass-fed cattle, all fish is sustainably grown, and chicken is 100 percent antibiotic-free.

Student surveys provide essential information for creating and maintaining quality service, wide variety, and a healthy culture. Ninety-two percent of students say they want more fruit and vegetables and healthier beverages. Soda consumption is down 22 percent in past years. UMass students eat an average of 21 pounds of fish a year, seven pounds more than the average American.

Students visit the dining commons more frequently for smaller meals, says Toong. They want to get in and out quickly, adds DiStefano, “the food has to be good, fast, and healthy.”

“Food can enrich campus life and create community,” says Toong, and UMass Dining has created a food culture, including redesigned dining commons, that reflects and responds to students’ eating habits and desires while also helping to shape those habits.

“Even though I live off-campus, I have a meal plan because I know that every time I go to a dining hall I'll have a satisfying meal. It's so easy to sit there for hours—I always want to try everything! We're spoiled here at UMass,” says Seana Cofsky, a senior environmental science major.