Written by special contributor
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 are a light eater? What if you have a food allergy, or follow a vegan diet — or what if you just know what you like?
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. Javier Alarco, our executive chef, oversees our culinary team. This team is made up of highly skilled Red Seal chefs, including a designated chef for each of our residence dining halls. 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 by the world of food!
Where can students use the meal plan?
Your meal plan can be used at any of the 24 Food Services locations across campus. Check out our full list of locations. It’s a common misconception that residence students can only use their meal plan in the dining hall, however, your meal plan is accepted at a variety of franchises, cafes, and vending services all over campus.
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?
Dining halls are organized with diverse food stations, many of which are customizable and made to order.
There’s an induction station at each residence that rotates on a weekly basis. Some features include curry, pasta, or stir fry.
While food stations differ slightly in each residence, you'll also find options like a grill for sandwiches and burgers, pizza, quesadillas, burritors, and even poke bowls. All of these are built-to-order and feature both plant-based and gluten-free options.
Our grill station serves a variety of options including chicken, beef, black bean, and even Beyond Meat burgers! We have gluten-free buns and lettuce wraps, with an assortment of different toppings and sauces.
Each residence offers a four-week rotation of hot table dishes. These are more of your traditional hot meal entrées and include seasonal vegetables, grains, pasta, and poteins (both plant-based on animal, with halal features daily).
You'll also find cavery sandwiches at lunch and a traditional carvery meal with protein, grains, and vegetables, at dinner. These are chef-designed recipes and both the hot table and cavery features tend to be very popular.
And of course, you can't forget about the daily fresh salad bar with homemade mixed salads and a variety of fresh seasonal vegetables and fruits.
Both the salad bar and hot food areas are self-serve, meaning you can mix and match to create your own unique meal combination.
Our talented residence chefs love to craft special menus for holidays or theme nights such as Fairy Tale Day, Halloween Dinner, Thanksgiving Dinner, Holiday Dinner, Lunar New Year, Italian Night, Valentine's Dinner, and more!
We post updates about upcoming events on our website and on our Instagram @uwaterloofood. There are also so many annual events like Cake Boss, Fired Up @ REV, and K.I.S.S. Cooking Show that are interactive and free for students!
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.
Do students have to show up for set mealtimes?
No. Our halls are usually open from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 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.
What do you offer students with different dietary needs?
Every dining location has options to suit dietary needs and top allergies. Some examples include gluten-free and vegan options at each station, along with allergen and ingredient information available. We also have dedicated gluten-green sections for bread, bagels, and muffins.
Across campus we also offer nutritious packaged snack options that are free from the top 11 allergens in Canada. We call these Smart Snacks and they are easy to spot with our big read signs in each location.
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. We offer dietitian and chef-led dining hall tours for any student who needs assistance locating options that suit their preferences or dietary needs.
Our team always wants you to feel welcome and comfortable dining on campus. We encourage students to share your menu ideas and feedback so we can continue to offer choices that suit our campus community.
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.
UW Food Services plays a key role in the student experience at the University of Waterloo and we want to ensure that this experience is a great one for everyone in the Waterloo community. We value our customers, their convenience, and their choice to choose the options that work for them. It is our mission to believe in and deliver these values in every action and decision we make.
- Customers: Our most important asset is the personal relationships with our customers. We truly believe in building relationships with each of our customers based on mutual trust and offering products and services you want.
- Convenience: To us, it's critical to meet customers' needs as conveniently as possible. We strive to have services available when you need, where you need them.
- Choice: We're all about options. We're committed to meeting the needs of our customers today and changing for tomorrow.
If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to contact us! 519-888-4567 (ext. 35270) firstname.lastname@example.org.