Boarding School Menus: What's the Food Really Like?

Buffet at school. Kerstin Klaassen/Getty Images

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 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? 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 Academy, and at many other boarding schools. Cheshire Academy is also known for maintaining several food traditions, including Taco Tuesday on occasion and the most sacred, and decades-long, tradition of Clam Chowder on Fridays - more than 12 gallons each Friday! 

International Food Festivals & Cooking Classes

Schools like Exeter and Cheshire Academy 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. Cheshire Academy students engage in an annual International Food Festival where students serve up traditional food from their home countries for the entire school to sample.


The Dining Hall staff at Cheshire Academy has even been known for holding cooking classes with international students, where the students educate the chefs on how to make traditional food. Hosted at the Head of School's house, the chefs learned directly from students on how to prepare, season and serve some of their favorite meals, many of which were incorporated into the regular menus. 

Specialty Food Stations

Boarding schools are also known for offering specialty stations 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 Academy, omlette 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 cheesy pasta in less than two hours on the first day it was offered!

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