• Abigail DesVergnes

What it's like eating at UMass Amherst Dining

Updated: May 1, 2019

By: Abigail DesVergnes

If you’re like me, you may fall into the trap of wanting to eat pasta, french fries, and unlimited amounts of pizza when eating at the UMass dining halls.

For years, I’ve been blessed by parents who made balanced meals for dinner each night. Now that I’m off on my own, and can make my own decisions about what I want to eat, it can be very difficult to choose healthy options.

Often times, I find myself neglecting the fact that UMass Dining is voted number one in the nation for the third year-in-a-row for their dining services, as pizza and french fries definitely does not live up to the mission of UMass Dining.

“Local, healthy, sustainable, delicious,” is a phrase the UMass Amherst Dining Program lives by, and contributes to their overall success.

According to a publication by the UMass Auxiliary Enterprises and UMass Dining Services, titled, Making Local, Healthy, Sustainable Delicious:The How-to Guide for Foodservice Operators, UMass is a part of the Real Food Challenge Campus Commitment which aims to source food products in a 250-mile radius, making up 20 percent of the overall dining budget.

As well, menus reflect plant-forward ingredients, and over 15 world and specialty cuisines are offered on campus.

These initiates in the dining program is what ultimately makes the program number one; however, with meal plans reaching a maximum of $3,269 per semester, the highly acclaimed services come at a high price — a price that many say, is too expensive.

Last semester, several students gathered outside of Hampshire Dining Commons during UMass Dining’s celebration of its third consecutive “Best Campus Food” ranking by the Princeton Review.

Students protested the rise in meal plans which increased the “unlimited” meal plan from $2,978 to its current $3,067.

In an article by The Massachusetts Daily Collegian, students at the protest expressed their concerns about the increase.

“ We really just want to be here to say that it’s not okay,” said Lou Purington, organizer of the protest, in the article. “It’s not okay that they continue to raise fees, that they are cutting back services, that they continuously just disregard the needs of the students.”

I'm lucky enough to have the $3,067 a semester “unlimited” meal plan. So, I decided to take full advantage of the pricey meal plan that I have, and spice up my entrees for a week.

Portuguese Seafood Sausage Stew


Hampshire Dining Commons

Main ingredients: Potatoes, haddock, shrimp, white wine, tomatoes, linguica, clams, mussels, and kale

Review: This stew was absolutely delicious and reminded me of a dish that I would enjoy at a restaurant on the coast. The clams, mussels, and shrimp tasted very fresh and were cleaned properly. The broth was perfectly smooth, yet tangy from the white wine and clam juice, serving as the base of the broth. The linguica added a spicy component to the dish, while fresh kale and tomatoes added texture and color. I was impressed by how perfectly all the flavors melded together. This stew was so delicious that I even had to go in for seconds! If you’re looking to try something new, I would highly suggest this stew.

Caldo Verde (green soup)


Berkshire Dining Commons

Main Ingredients: Chicken broth, potatoes, kale, and chorizo.

Review: My grandmother has made Caldo Verde soup ever since I was a little girl, and this recipe is the closest thing to my family’s original recipe. The first bite I had immediately reminded me of Sunday’s at grandma’s house where we gathered around the dining room table with hot Caldo Verde soup and fresh Portuguese rolls. The chorizo adds a hint of spice to the broth; however, it isn’t overpowering to the overall dish. The potatoes were perfectly cooked, and the kale added a crunchy and bitter component.

Chicken Dinner


Berkshire Dining Commons

Main Ingredients: Lemon oregano roasted chicken, chive scalloped potatoes, oven roasted carrots, and sauteed kale.

Review: This dish was comfort food at its finest. The chicken was cooked to a golden-perfection on the outside and moist on the inside. Hints of lemon and oregano paired perfectly when roasted with the chicken; however, my cut of chicken had too many bones in it. The scalloped potatoes were creamy and the chives added a spicy component to the side dish. I also really enjoyed the oven roasted carrots which were evenly seasoned with salt and pepper. As well, the kale added a bitter component that broke up the creamy and sweet flavors from the rest of the meal.

Crab Stuffies Meal


Berkshire Dining Commons

Main Ingredients: Crab, stuffing mix, sauteed mushrooms and kale, carrot medley, and potato wedges.

Review: I come from a long line of crab lovers! Most of my family lives in the Chesapeake Bay region, and let me tell you, they eat crab for basically breakfast, lunch and dinner! I loved how this meal was essentially a crab cake inside of a crab shell. The crab to stuffing ratio was perfect; however, the only thing holding this meal back from a five-star review is because the stuffing was a little too salty. The carrot medley was a perfect addition, brightening up the plate. The potato wedges were seasoned perfectly, and the sauteed mushrooms and kale added a slight bitter complexion to the plate.

Friday’s Fried Fish


Berkshire Dining Commons

Main ingredients: Battered fish, long grain rice, potato wedges, cherry tomatoes, and zucchini

Review: I always look forward to Friday’s fish nights. Growing up in a Catholic family, fish on Friday’s was an ingrained tradition. The batter on the fish was fried to a golden perfection, crunching and then melting in my mouth. I always like to add a squeeze of a lemon wedge to enhance the flavor of the fish. Rather than having the traditional fish and chips, I decided to make my plate a little healthier with long grain rice, potato wedges, and veggies on the side. However, this meal is great with some french fries on the side.

Turkey Dinner


Hampshire Dining Commons

Main Ingredients: Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, sauteed spinach with garlic, and cranberry sauce

Review: When there’s turkey dinner at the dining hall, expect to wait in a long line before you get your meal. I mean, who doesn't love a turkey dinner? The only thing holding this meal back from a five star is the fact that it’s not my family’s turkey dinner; otherwise, it’s absolutely delicious. The turkey is moist and seasoned perfectly, and the mashed potatoes are a buttery-creamy masterpiece. In addition, the cranberry sauce seems like it was homemade and not out of the can. Overall, I can see why this meal is a big hit on campus.

Salmon meal


Hampshire Dining Commons

Main ingredients: Salmon, sweet potato, long grain rice, sauteed green peppers

Review: This meal was definitely the healthiest out of all the reviews on my list. Salmon is one of my favorite kinds of fish to eat as the flavor of the meat is not fishy, but rather mild and subtle. I tried my best to make the plate balanced with some green from the peppers bright orange from the sweet potato, and yellow and brown from the long grain rice. This meal was refreshing and delicious.

So... is $3,067 a semester worth it?

Being a foodie for a week was definitely an interesting experience. I truly enjoyed sampling a variety of foods that I may not have enjoyed otherwise. There’s no doubt in my mind that UMass truly knows how to prepare delicious and nutritious meals on a mass scale to their students; however, there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed.

The meal plan is just too expensive for many students to afford.

Assuming there are 108 days in a semester, and an unlimited meal plan prices out at $3,067, students are paying an average of $28.40 to eat each day on campus. However this is unlimited, so it’s really what you make of it. If you’re someone like me and eat three to four times a day, then the plan is definitely worth it.

If a student doesn’t eat at least three times a day, or if they live off campus, I would advise students to select another option.

Other options include the DC Basic which is $2,779 a semester and includes 224 swipes per semester, nine meal exchanges, and 15 Guest Meals; YCMP Gold which is $1,477 a semester, open to only juniors and seniors, and includes 100 dining common and retail meals; YCMP Platinum which is $2,712 a Semester, open to only juniors and seniors, and includes 200 dining common and retail meals, and more.

After a week of eating like a foodie, I realized how privileged I am to attend a university with the number one dining plan in the county, and be able to afford it. However, what needs to be addressed is that food insecurity is growing each year on my campus.

According to a recent Amherst Wire article addressing food insecurity on campus, just in the first half of the spring semester of 2019, student usage of the UMass Student Food Pantry has more than doubled, with over 150 visits to the food pantry compared to the roughly 60 recorded last semester.

This growing problem of food insecurity is now being addressed campus-wide. According to the UMass Dining website, “UMass Dining is one point of access for the campus-wide No Student Goes Hungry Policy.” Students who are hungry will be provided a meal by contacting the meal plan office at (413) 545-2472.

For those looking to save money on food, students can visit any retail or café establishment on campus one hour before closing and get 50 percent off select goods. As well, Harvest Market offers a 40 percent discount on select menu items one hour before closing, and feature $5 Daily Value Meals.

So, my advice — if you are lucky enough to afford an unlimited meal plan, I suggest that you use it to your full advantage by eating like a foodie as much as possible, and if not, there are many options through the campus dining plan to help reduce expenses.

No one should ever be left hungry on this campus.

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