DIY at the dining hall: food hacks from a pro

Whether you are a picky eater or just looking to change up the usual lunch- or dinner-time routine, making your own food combinations at Phelps is a fun way to add new flavors to your palate. 

The Dining Services at Hope College state on their website that they are committed to providing “thoughtful, high-quality, nutritious food and exceptional service, with a focus on sustainability.” These commitments shine through in the range of food options offered weekly. Staff members strive to include food from multiple cuisines and respect different dietary needs (gluten-free, vegetarian, etc.). They even add specialty items to the menu to correspond to holidays and seasons, with student favorites such as a chocolate fountain on Valentine’s Day. 

“Phelps is an interesting place. I have a deep love for Phelps in my heart, but I’m a bit of a picky eater and sometimes Phelps just doesn’t have the options I want,” said Elisabeth Bendle (’27). “As a camp counselor who knows how to make food hacks, I’m like, ‘how can I get creative in Phelps?’ and it might turn out good in the end. I’m paying a lot of money for this food plan, so I might as well have fun with it.”

On days when someone is craving something specific or does not want what is being served, the set-up of Phelps can lend itself nicely to the “design-it-yourself” option. This is especially true for desserts and snacks. Below is a compilation of some creative options. Though it is by no means complete, these ideas can help inspire new excitement and appreciation for the food we are blessed to eat and share with others.

  1. Panini-pressed pizza

Bendle makes mini pizzas by using naan or pita bread as the base (usually from the Greek Za’atar station), marinara sauce (from the pasta station), and a sprinkling of cheese of choice from the salad bar. After assembling, wrap in extra parchment paper and place in the panini press for a few seconds, being cautious not to burn it. Then enjoy your custom pizza.

  1. Trail mix

This is an easy option for anyone looking for an energy-boosting snack. Grab a bowl and fill it with Cheerios (or another kind of cereal), nuts, and dried food from the salad toppings.

  1. Brownie or Cookie Milkshake

Another yummy idea from Bendle: make a milkshake by filling a cup with ice cream and then adding a few splashes of milk (the more milk, the less thick your milkshake will be). Stir with a spoon, and then crumble a brownie or cookie in the cup and mix again. Drizzle with chocolate sauce for even more sweetness.

  1. Panini-pressed cookie

This is a well-known method among students, but still worth mentioning: wrap your cookies in parchment paper and place them in the panini press to crisp them up. Be careful not to burn them, and enjoy with milk or tea. You can also make an ice cream sandwich if you have two cookies. 

  1. Bagel Sandwiches

If students ever tire of the panini press, Bendle recommends swapping sandwich bread for a toasted bagel. “You get a couple weird looks from the lovely ladies making your sandwich for you, but you just ask for it without the bread, and then you put all of your toppings on the bagel. It really just ups the sandwich game.” Another piece of advice is to panini press the bacon from the sandwich bar, which makes it “nice and crispy” for sandwiches according to Bendle.

Describing her favorite and least favorite parts of eating at college, Bendle named the opportunity to easily eat with friends and the convenience of not having to cook or prepare food. “Sometimes I don’t like the options but there’s always some type of food that I can go eat.”

Though food opinions and preferences vary widely, there is no doubt that dining in Phelps is often a core fixture of a Hope experience. By incorporating any of the above ideas or brainstorming their own, students can exercise creativity and have some fun along the way.

(Featured image credit: Nico Kazlauskas)

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