three students with plates of food

As you prepare for university, you might be wondering what the food is like on campus. Where can you eat? What kinds of food can you choose from? What if you like to eat four small meals a day instead of three squares? What if you have a food allergy, or follow a vegan diet—or what if you’re just kinda picky? (No judgement!)

To ease your anxiety and answer some of the more common questions we get asked about food on campus, we sat down with the best person to chat all things food with: Nicole Pin, Registered Dietitian with Waterloo’s Food Services.

So where does the food come from? And who’s back there in the kitchen?

From bringing the ingredients in, to prep and cooking, it’s all done by our team. Our executive chef is Javier Alarco, and each of our three residence dining operations have their own chef. We also have chefs in catering and other food service locations. They have some really interesting work experience — check out their profiles. If you ever have a chance to sit and chat with them, your mind will be blown about the world of food!

Healthy food being made on campus.

Where can students use the meal plan?

Any food location operated by UW Food Services on campus: this includes Tim Hortons, Starbucks, Brubakers in the Student Life Centre, and residence dining halls. Our full list of locations is available online! It’s a common misconception that residence students can only use their meal plan in the dining hall. Your meal plan is like a bank account, and you can use it at any of the locations listed above.

If you run out of funds, you can always add more. If you have leftover funds, you can use them in your second, third, and fourth years—it always comes in handy for a coffee or snack! And if you have an off-campus meal plan, you have the same flexibility to use it across the campus as a traditional meal plan.

What would I see if I walked into the dining hall, other than what I’m picturing in my head, which is mac & cheese?

We have several mac & cheese recipes, so you’re not wrong about that, and it always amazes me when our chef’s come up with a new one!

Dining halls are organized around food stations, many of which are made to order and customizable.

There’s an induction station, which rotates between a curry, stir fry, and pasta bar. That’s also where we do omelets in the morning.

We’ve got a pizza-quesadilla area: you can choose whole wheat tortillas, gluten free pizza crusts, your toppings, cheeses (including vegan cheese), and protein.

Our grill station serves chicken and different kinds of burgers including Beyond Meat and black bean, buns (including a gluten free option), lettuce wraps, lots of different toppings.

At our hot table there’s always vegetables, a grain or potato, a vegan entrée, a vegetarian entrée, two meats (at least one is always halal), and a pasta dish.

We offer a carvery meal at dinner which is your typical meat, potatoes, and veg.

Lastly, there’s a generous salad offering and a customizable burrito bar.


There are also special menus for special occasions, like Oktoberfest, Valentine’s Day, or Lunar New Year.

Grab and go food available on campus.

Grab-and-go foods you can choose include sandwiches, salads, snack foods, cereal, toast, and bagels.

Curious about the food offerings available at the University College residences? Check out reason number two in 10 reasons to join a University College!

What about students who like spicier food?

A lot of our dishes have east and south Asian flavour profiles—our chefs like to make their own spice blends. But heat is always a bit of a balancing act! So, we have a condiment station with different spices, flavourings, and hot sauces to add to your food as a way for students to customize to their spice preferences.

Is your food healthy?

Healthy means something different to everyone as each person has unique dietary and nutrition needs. Overall, our goal is for students to be able to make informed decisions, to feel good about what they’re choosing, and to know that there’s always options available for them.

If you want to make your burrito bowl into a salad, you can do that, and if you want to make your burrito bowl into a super deluxe meal, you can also do that. We try to make sure that our offerings are customizable, and that our labels are really clear.

Custom pizza being made for a student.

Pizza is always a popular choice.

Do students have to show up for set mealtimes?

No. Our halls are usually open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and you can go in and get food anytime. The hot tables are open at traditional mealtimes, because we want that food to be freshly made and hot when you come in to eat. But if you miss those windows, you can still choose from many of our other stations or grab something to go.

Say I’m pulling an all-nighter during exams, though?

During exams, traditionally we do late-night snacks in the dining hall, and that’s when our culinary team likes to bring in some new and fun foods to lighten the mood. Things like jalapeno poppers filled with bacon and mac and cheese. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry, we make sure there are other options available too, in case someone comes down for late-night food and just wants to grab a sandwich to go.  

Salad bar for students on campus

What do you offer students with different dietary needs?

Every dining location has gluten-free, halal, vegetarian, and vegan options. There are gluten-free pizza crusts at the pizza bar, halal meat at the carving station. We have a special Smart Snacks area with allergy-friendly foods that avoid the top 11 allergens in Canada.

We also do introductions with the chef for any students feeling a little unsure about the options available. It’s important that we maintain a relationship with any students who have a dietary need or are struggling to find options in the dining hall.

Everyone’s situation is unique. You may be vegan and I may also be vegan, but that doesn’t mean we have the exact same needs! I really encourage students to meet with me on campus so we can do a tour.

We also do introductions with the chef for any students feeling a little unsure about the options available. It’s important that we maintain a relationship with any students who have a dietary need or are struggling to find options in the dining hall.

As a customer, you might feel intimidated to ask, “Actually, can you swap this for that?” But as a dietitian, I know that while one option might work for 80 percent of the people, the remaining 20 percent are the ones who truly need that encouragement to ask for something different. Our chefs really do want you to enjoy your food!

Your job is to be here, learn, and attend classes. Our job is to feed you. The more you share with us what you’re looking for on the menu, the better we can do our job!

Anything you’d like to add?

Regardless of whether or not you have a meal plan, Food Services is there to provide you with meals, information on food and nutrition, and support. It doesn’t matter whether you’re tapping a WatCard or a debit card. We will always be here for you.




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