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The Food at Boarding Schools

New Fare Features Environmentally Friendly and International Options

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The Food at Boarding Schools

Buffet at school.

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Dining halls are the heart of boarding school life, the place where faculty and students sit down and talk and get to know each other. Most boarding schools have sit-down, family-style meals at least some days of the week, in addition to celebrating special days and holidays, to make students feel at home and feel connected. But the food that students and faculty eat has changed a great deal over the years.

Environmentally Friendly Food

The food at boarding schools has evolved over recent years. While basic American fare used to be standard, schools now emphasize environmentally friendly food, which is not only healthy but also supports sustainable agriculture, as it favors locally grown food. Typically, there is not only a salad bar but also a sandwich bar, griddle, wok, and hot food options. In addition, schools offer a number of vegetarian and vegan options.

For example, at Squaw Valley Academy at Lake Tahoe in California, breakfast includes fresh whole and sliced fruits (including apples, berries, and melons), a variety of cereals, scrambled eggs, different types of bread at a toaster station, and hot options such as French toast and turkey sausage. Students can wash it all down with peach or carrot juice. At lunch, students dine on entrees such as soft chicken tacos, salmon burgers, stir fry, and yakasobi, as well as options for a soup and salad bar. Dinner entrees include lean roast beef with green beans or tilapia and glazed salmon.

At Phillips Exeter in New Hampshire, there are two dining halls that serve entrees such as vegetable pizza, teriyaki beef, and vegetarian options, as well as a salad, sandwich, baked potato, and pasta bar; stir-fry and omelet stations; and an ice cream bar. For breakfast, students can choose from options such as homemade waffles, organic eggs, and a vegan yo-nola bar. At lunch, students chow down on beef stew, vegan tofu-stuffed peppers, steamed zucchini, and pistachio bars, among other dishes.

The dining hall at Exeter has for several years tried to serve locally produced food at every meal and to get their products from New England farms within 250 miles of the school. Their practices are intended to support New England agriculture and the local economy as well as to follow environmentally sustainable practices.

International Fare

Boarding schools also now often feature international food options to make their increasing numbers of international students feel more at home.

For example, at Exeter, at dinner, students have not only traditional options but also often enjoy international celebrations such as Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights, with naan bread, shrimp coconut curry, dahl, and carrot halwa. In addition, students observing Ramadan, the month-long Muslim fast, can get food to eat after hours. During Passover, the Jewish holiday, students can find Matzo and unleavened bread, and Catholic students can find fish to eat on Fridays during Lent.

Family-style Meals

And at Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts, students start each meal with a moment of silence to give thanks “for food, for friendship, and for the blessings of the day.” Sit-down family-style meals, which include vegetarian options, are served seven days a week, and boarding students are required to attend them. Students sit at ten-seat tables and are served by student waiters and a faculty member. Students rotate among different faculty members’ tables every three weeks to get to know the faculty and other students better. Students also enjoy so-called “feeds,” when students gather in their dormitories after study halls to eat food prepared by a faculty member or down cookies and cocoa in front of a fireplace.

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