Coming from a family in which every single one of my parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents are excellent cooks, food has always been an important aspect of my life. Whether it was something as simple as nightly family dinner together or something requiring more effort, like Christmas dinners with extended family, these meals always included meaningful conversation, familial bonding, and (most importantly!) delicious food. Leaving for college, I did not believe I would be able to consistently partake in meals with this much meaning until I eventually had a family of my own. And then I came to Wheaton College.
Unlike any of the other colleges or universities I considered, campus dining is far from an afterthought at Wheaton. Instead, it is a priority. For this reason, some of the most memorable moments on campus occur around the breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables in Anderson Commons, or Saga as it is commonly known.
Of course, I am sure this is a claim that many colleges make, as well. Yet how many schools’ star athletes remember the school cafeteria as one of the places on campus they miss the most?
Last year, as the sports editor for The Wheaton Record, I interviewed former NFL player and Wheaton alumnus, Andy Studebaker. During the interview, I asked Studebaker what he missed most about Wheaton. To my surprise, one of the first things he mentioned was eating in Saga with his best friends and the football team. Listening to him, the fact that he mentioned Wheaton’s cafeteria was always curious to me. Now, as a senior with only a few months left at Wheaton, I share a similar sentiment.
But why the cafeteria? What makes it so memorable? Below are the top three reasons why Wheaton’s campus dining experience is top notch.
It’s pretty simple, really:
- The Food
The first requirement for any great campus dining is delicious food with nutritional value. Wheaton passes both categories with flying colors. Cafe Bon Appétit, an award-wining dining service, caters the food for Saga and is regularly ranked among the best collegiate dining services in the nation. In fact, Niche.com recently ranked Wheaton’s dining experience as the 17th best in the country in their “2017 Best College Food in America” rankings.
For those worried about the food not only tasting good, but also being healthy (something that concerns a large majority of Wheaton’s student body), Wheaton covers its bases there, too. All of the college’s food is locally and sustainably grown, raised humanely, made from scratch, and customized to meet nutritional and dietary needs, such as gluten-free options.
The different food stations are categorized as Cucina (Italian-style with different pizzas and pastas), Taqueria (South American-inspired dishes), Spice-Tastings from Asia (Asian food varieties), and Classics (more “Americanized” foods such as pot roast, baked chicken, sloppy joes, etc.). The salad bar is another option with lettuce and spinach options, as well as eight homemade dressings made from scratch each day. Salad toppings include over 16 different varieties with everything from fresh cucumbers and carrots to all sorts of sunflower and chia seeds. Other sides like yogurt, applesauce, or cottage cheese are also available. Soft, home-baked breads are prepared daily, like ciabatta and whole wheat, and I oftentimes eat it with the wide-variety of freshly-made soups.
Have a hard time deciding between all these options? There are also premade sub sandwiches piled five inches high and filled with a number of meats, lettuce, and tomatoes, among other things – definitely irresistible with the homemade thick-cut potato chips that are also provided. For students who want a simpler option, peanut butter and jelly is always on hand, as well as a sandwich-making area and a cereal dispenser with plenty of variations for any kind of preference.
The beauty of Wheaton’s buffet-style cafeteria is the ability to mix-and-match food as desired. Numerous students use different ingredients found within Saga to produce their own creations using the panini press or multiple microwaves. With all of these options, it is extremely rare that a student, no matter how picky, is unable to find a suitable option for any meal. These healthy options also safeguard many freshman from the dreaded “freshman 15” weight gain. This is not to say that Saga lacks any sort of dessert options – quite the contrary, in fact! A wide array of desserts gives students the option to choose from various daily desserts (all freshly made earlier that day), including a soft serve ice cream machine with cones, bowls, sprinkles, and chocolate sauce.
- The Service
The difference between Saga and other cafeterias can also be found in the people who prepare and serve the meals, and clean up after students. Saga’s workers sincerely care about the students and are willing to drop whatever they are doing to assist a student when possible. The kitchen staff works incredibly hard to prepare freshly-made food for each meal. Like other staff members and professors at Wheaton, cutting corners is simply not an option for Bon Appetit employees.
Meals made at home always taste differently than those prepared in a restaurant and I would say that Saga is as close to a home cooked meal as you can imagine. It is something prospective students must experience firsthand to understand. For example, when my parents come to visit campus, they often request to eat in Saga rather than going out to another restaurant in the area. Saga certainly has their stamp of approval! I’ve also known of friends who visit from other colleges and they are always surprised – and a bit envious – of the quality, freshness, and abundance of Wheaton’s dining choices.
- The Community
Food is only a part of what makes Saga so special. The atmosphere created within the cafeteria is truly something extraordinary that facilitates conversations between friends and strangers alike. The tables can easily be rearranged to seat as many people as needed. The wide windows bordering the space show the beauty of the surrounding landscape and the skylights above make for a pleasant view during both sunny and snowy days. Saga also has a couple fireplaces that add to the cozy and comfortable environment.
While dining at Saga, friendships are fostered between students, sports teams and floors of men or women who gain valuable bonding opportunities. Professors form genuine relationships with students through Wheaton’s “Dine with a Mind” program, speaking more often of life, faith and personal goals than what’s happening in class. Saga is also home to many of Wheaton’s longest-held traditions, including “floating,” which involves placing a root beer float in between two people on a “Saga Date.”
From personal experience, I can say that more than any other place on Wheaton’s campus, Saga has shaped my relationships with fellow students and faculty. Within the confines of Wheaton’s cafeteria, I have conducted interviews, eaten with professors, written last-minute papers, and received incredibly applicable life advice.
Because a large majority of the student body, if not everyone, eats in Saga at some point or time each day, Saga becomes an easy place to meet students in a relaxed environment. Wheaton alumni like Andy Studebaker fondly remember their experiences in Saga as one of the highlights of their Wheaton careers. I am confident that Wheaton College is among the best campus dining experiences in the country. I can honestly say it will hold a special place in my heart for years to come, with memories I’ll remember forever.
Checking out the dining experience is an important part of any campus visit. Why not get our guide on how to make the most of your campus visit?