Childhood Memories Friday: Dorm Eating in the ’80s

Childhood Memories Friday

A recent trip to my college alma mater included a visit past a dorm. As I listened to a discussion of meal plan options, “I-bucks,” and more, I began to reminisce about the dining halls I frequented several decades back.

Dorm Eating in the ’80s

Back then, in the mid-’80s, the IU college meal plan was simple: you got 20 meals per week (breakfast, lunch, and dinner each day, except no dinner on Sundays). If you didn’t eat a meal — and I often didn’t, since it wasn’t always convenient to get to a dorm at mealtimes — you lost that credit. Meals usually offered a couple of entree choices. There was a salad bar in the dining area as well, which seemed a bit new/avant garde at the time. Dorm cafeterias definitely weren’t the buffet restaurant-type setups I’m surmising is normal these days.

’80s Yogurt

One thing I remembered, too: yogurt. College was where I first became aware of yogurt. I don’t think it’s that my family was anti-yogurt; it just seems that yogurt wasn’t even on my radar until then. Are the ’80s when yogurt first became popular? I remember that, if you didn’t like either entree choice in the cafeteria, you could substitute two containers of yogurt for it. Since I am generally not a very picky eater, it was only a rare occasion where I didn’t like one of the offered entrees. But when it happened, it was kind of a treat to get my very own little containers of yogurt. They were always the fruit-on-the-bottom type (or maybe that was the only option then?), always seemed to be Dannon, and I’d eat one and bring the other to my room, to stash safely away in my neat-o dorm fridge.

Ordering Pizza at College

The common stereotype of college kids ordering pizza was never my experience. I was always too frugal and conscientious to do this: too frugal, because I reasoned that since I was already paying for a meal plan, I certainly wasn’t going to “double pay” by ordering pizza as well. Conscientious, because I was determined not to gain the “freshman 15” at any point in my college years, and I also knew that I didn’t need all those extra calories on top of the regular dorm food (yes, I was born 40 in many ways). In the interest of full disclosure, I do recall one time where I participated in ordering pizza. It stands out in my memory, probably because it occurred just once.

What do you remember about your college eating experiences? And what about yogurt — do you remember it prior to the ’80s?

4 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Dorm Eating in the ’80s

  1. Since I never spent one hour in college, I have no memories of college food. However when I went to Girls State, probably in the summer of 1958, it was held on the Indiana University Campus. That was the week when I, for the first time ever, ate pizza. It was served in our dorm cafeteria.

  2. I remember hating lunch on Saturday. Campbell’s vegetable soup with all the week’s leftover veggies added and soy burgers! Most of the food was edible. You could also get pbj at every meal and ice cream–which my friends and I would use to make “dorm sundaes” by adding some peanut butter and chocolate syrup which was usually available near the milk machine. No excuse for going hungry. You could also chose a hard boiled egg or a slice of plastic cheese or yogurt (any two) but one yogurt was all you were allowed to “remove” from the cafeteria!

    On Sundays a group of us would order pizza or gyros and garlic bread from Mother Bears or go to Noble Roman’s right behind the dorm. With all the walking I lost a little weight that year! I kept Dr. Pepper and, often, sandwich stuff, in my fridge. Since my Grandmother lived in Bloomington, I often went there on the weekends and I went home a lot on the weekends since I hated the noise of the dorm.

    Today there are pizza bars, taco bars, burger bars, salad bars, vegan bars and you-name-it in dorm dining rooms. A way different world from Salisbury Steak and an ice cream scoop of mashed potatoes!

    Good memories, as always!

  3. I remember far more about food during my days in nursing school than in college. Because we worked in the hospital almost from the day we arrived there, our meals were provided as a part of the program. (I went to nursing school year ’round, except for one month of vacation per year. The cost for my entire program was $1000! Yes, you read that right. My parents paid $1000 for my entire nursing school education from 1962-1965. But we WORKED in the hospital.But I’ve digressed….

    I remember being introduced to so many foods in the hospital cafeteria that I’d never before eaten. Brussels sprouts is one of the things that comes to mind. I believe that is also where I began eating broccoli and developed a lifelong love for it. (That did not happen with Brussels sprouts, BTW!) The food was delicious. I remember that at coffee break time, I, like many of the other girls who didn’t smoke, would get a cup of coffee and a doughnut. The girls who smoked got coffee and smoked their cigarettes. They didn’t gain much weight, while I was packing it on. That made me really tempted to begin smoking. So thankful I didn’t.

    In those days, people smoked openly in public. I remember one of the doctors regularly coming into the dining room smoking a pipe with cherry blend tobacco. It always smelled so good, as compared to regular tobacco. One day, I was told to go see an autopsy around 10:30 or 11:00. That doctor was the pathologist who performed the autopsy on the deceased person. Immediately after the autopsy, we were scheduled for lunch. The autopsy had been almost more than I could handle. Then to go eat immediately afterwards just didn’t go to well with my stomach. But within a few minutes, the pathologist/doctor came into the dining room smoking his cherry-blend tobacco. Somehow it was much less exciting to smell that tobacco that day, if you get my drift.

    When I look back on the meals we had at Deaconess hospital, I can’t think of even one other negative experience. But then we had to go on affiliation to Madison State Hospital in Madison, Indiana. The food there was in a totally different category! For one thing, the higher functioning patients worked in the hospital kitchen. One of their most common meals was barbecued liver. You could do anything in the world to liver and not make it palatable in my opinion. But that would be the one and only entree on those days. I left the table hungry on many occasions there. It was there, also, that I found a LARGE dead fly in my food.

    It was also at Madison State Hospital that I learned to stuff food in my mouth as quickly as possible. We had 30 minutes to eat, and some of the buildings where we worked were so remote that it took 10 minutes each way to walk to the dining room. Doing the math, you can see that that left us with 10 minutes to go through the line to get our food and stuff it into our mouths. Unfortunately, that’s a habit that has stayed with me throughout the rest of my life.

    I’ve probably written far more than you wanted to know, but you asked for it!

  4. This post brings back college cafeteria memories for me too. In order to save money and because I wasn’t a big breakfast eater, I opted for the two meal per day plan. Then each day I would pay a quarter for a glass of orange juice, and that would hold me through morning classes.

    The oddest thing about our food service was how often we had veal patties for dinner. If it indeed was actual veal, that seemed like an expensive and unusual meat choice. We wondered if our food service manager had a family connection with a veal wholesaler. I don’t think that I’ve had veal since!

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I enjoy hearing your thoughts.