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’ hard-working dining hall staffs 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.
For example, 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 their over 1,000 students. 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.
Exeter educates a large number of international students. Students at Exeter come from 34 countries, and about 20% are Asian-American and 44% are students of color from the U.S. To celebrate the cultures of its 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.
Exeter is not alone in providing special menus for its faculty and students. At Choate, a boarding school in Wallingford, 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. Every day, the dining hall features different choices for each meal; for example, dinner includes several choices for a main entrée, soup, and pasta. Breakfast includes options such as an oatmeal bar, eggs to order, Canadian bacon, hash browns, and blueberry buttermilk pancakes. All of this fare not only keeps students well fed but also provides comfort when they are away from home. In fact, students returning home for break will likely struggle to content themselves with fewer choices than what the dining halls at boarding school generally offer.