School Food: Special Menus at Boarding Schools

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Dining halls are at the heart of boarding school life. They are where students and faculty eat, relax, and get to know each other in a context other than the classroom. Boarding schools have hard-working dining hall staffs that try to help students feel at home by providing special menus and school food that remind them of home and that celebrate their cultures or, in some cases, introduce them to new cultures. In this sense, dining halls are a kind of classroom for students at boarding school. What do some of these special menus look like and what kind of school food is served? Here are a few examples.

Special Celebrations and Menus

At Phillips Exeter, a boarding school in New Hampshire, there are special dining events, such as the Valentine’s Day celebration, which features 21 gallons of hot chocolate and 200 cookies to feed the more than 1,000 students enrolled. In addition, according to the school, Exeter’s own bakery makes 300 muffins each day for breakfast and cooks up to 300 loaves of bread and 200 pizza dough balls per week. That’s a lot of pizza—in fact, according to the school’s calculations, it adds up to 8,400 pizzas each school year! Students and faculty also consume 75 pies and 25 tubs of ice cream each week.

The baked goods and sweets are just one way the school’s dining services make students feel nourished and comfortable. There are other food festivals, including an apple fest in the fall, which features apple pie and other apple-based goods that come from New England, as well as a “Chef’s Corner” in October when pond bass caught by the dining hall staff is served. A “Cereal Election” on Election Day asks students to vote for their favorite breakfast food, and there is of course a turkey dinner before Thanksgiving and a Christmas dinner and gingerbread decorating before the winter holidays.

At Cheshire Academy, a boarding school in Connecticut, the Sage Dining Staff at Gideon Welles Dining Hall serves up themed meals monthly, including a Halloween meal, Thanksgiving Dinner, and a campus favorite, the year end New England clam bake, including a variety of fresh seafood - and yes, lobster is served! Often these themed evenings coincide with Seated Dinners, a longstanding tradition at Cheshire, and at many other boarding schools! 

International Food Festivals & Cooking Classes

Schools like Exeter educate a large number of international students. In fact, both schools have a diverse student body, each of them educating students from more than 30 different countries in the world. At Exeter, to celebrate the cultures of their students, the dining hall hosts a celebration of the Chinese New Year. The dining hall is decorated for the event, and students and faculty are able to enjoy food from a pho bar to sample Vietnamese soup with chicken or beef and rice noodles, seasoned with basil, lime, mint, and bean sprouts. There is also a dumpling station, where students can try their hand at making dumplings, a traditional family activity during the Chinese New Year. 

Specialty Food Stations

Boarding schools are also known for offering a variety of food options, including special food stations that range from functional to fun. Most schools also offer gluten free, Kosher, vegetarian and vegan options, among others, and can work with students who have dietary restrictions to ensure they have nutritious and delicious meals. Peanut- or nut-free dining halls, or at least peanut-free areas, are also often an option. 

But, these specialty stations can also be super fun from time to time! At Choate, another boarding school in Connecticut, the dining services staff offers a number of special events each month, some of which feature samplings and contents. Some of these events include a chai tea and hot chocolate bar, sushi night, a pretzel dunk, and a contest to decorate ginger moose cookies. In addition, the staff invites students and their families to send in special recipes from home, some of which the dining hall services will make if the recipes lends itself to being made in large quantities. 

At Cheshire, omelette bars, smoothie bars, nacho stations, chicken wing bar, and a daily pasta and pizza station are some of the favorites. On weekends, the make your own waffle bar, complete with a variety of toppings is always a popular spot. And, many students will tell you that their absolute favorite speciality food station is the beloved Mac & Cheese station, which spooned out more than 60 pounds of pasta in less than two hours on the first day it was offered!

Want to try boarding school food yourself? Visit a boarding school for an Open House event, and chances are, you'll get a chance to sample some of their delicious fare. 

Article edited by Stacy Jagodowski

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Grossberg, Blythe. "School Food: Special Menus at Boarding Schools." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Grossberg, Blythe. (2020, August 26). School Food: Special Menus at Boarding Schools. Retrieved from Grossberg, Blythe. "School Food: Special Menus at Boarding Schools." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 24, 2021).