I didn't pay much attention to the food when I was looking at colleges, I just kind of figured it would all be the same. But when I ended up at Purdue, I learned they are extremely competitive with foodservice and one of the best among the Big 10.
As for how I would describe myself in terms of eating, I'd say I appreciate good food, but at the same time I'm a junk-food kid. I span the gamut, anything from fast-food to lobster, but I'm basically a poor college kid and most of my group was on a budget.
Honestly, when I first started eating at college, I didn't really eat any vegetables; then I literally started feeling sick after living off chicken fingers and French fries. I forced myself after a while to hit the salad bar most every meal. Some people just ate garbage all the time.
Some dining courts had more healthy options than others. Wylie had the most nutritious food, which was by the Co-Rec [Purdue's recreational sports center building]. It was stocked with a lot of proteins; another one focused on a lot of vegetarian options. Each was unique, but they all also had the same set of unhealthy options, kind of what I'd call classic American food choices.
I tended to choose where to eat based on either location or what time a place was open. The taco food truck was great, but the lines were often really long.
My roommate was from India, and while he likes American food, he still missed Indian food. After the first semester, he started getting tired of the food and ended up microwaving a lot of frozen Indian food in the dorm.
As a freshman, I chose the highest meal plan option, which included unlimited swipes into six different dining courts. Some of my friends on other plans would be out of swipes by Thursday. The plan also included eight on-the-go swipes a week for the c-store, which connects to most of the dining halls, for food you could grab and take with you when you were in a rush.
On top of that, there was another $500 in dining dollars a year that could be used anywhere, like the campus Starbucks, the union, and 3rd St. Market [a campus c-store]. A lot of the restaurants in the union, like the Korean taco place, which is kind of separate from the dining service, take cash or dining dollars, that's it [no credit or debit transactions]. Purdue has their own take on chain restaurants, so there is a Chick-fil-A-like chicken restaurant and a Panda Express-like Asian concept.
For me it was about using the free dining dollars, but honestly, if you were spending cash there were better places people wanted to go.
Heading into Sophmore Year
When I go back in the fall and live off-campus, I see myself stopping at the markets, but not going out of my way to go eat at the union since it's far from where I will be on campus. I am not sure I'll pay my own $8 for the dining hall because I'd probably rather just spend $5 on a sub.
I'm sure I'll hang by the Starbucks next year; Purdue has the biggest Starbucks in Indiana. All the facilities were huge and fabulous looking. The dining court always had a lot of people hanging around there.