The College Diet: Breaking Down the Food at SMU's Cafeteria

Categories: College Week

SMU Lunch RFOC.jpg
Real Food On Campus
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As Nick and I walked into SMU's RFOC Cafeteria (Real Food On Campus), a nice lady greeted and gave us the rundown. For $8.75 we had unlimited access to a world's bounty. "It's Asian day," she told us, and pointed to a station tricked out with saucy stir-fries. She motioned to the salad bar to our left and told us the cereal bar was tucked just around the corner.

Ah, the cereal bar. It's been a long time since I've been in a college cafeteria, and a lot of things have stayed the same. As the woman swiped my credit card I remembered some familiar feelings as I surveyed the room and tried to formulate a plan. The various stations laid out an endless tapestry of prepared food that was mine for the taking and I was overwhelmed by a sudden, almost giddy and uncontrollable desire to eat everything.

And then I did.

SMU Lunch Burger Buffet.jpg
Nick attacked one of the hot stations, composing a plate of french fries, a grilled cheese sandwich and a sloppy joe he assembled with onions, pickles and a bun that might have been slowly toasted on the hood of a car. The grilled cheese sandwich was dry, too, resembling a thin whisper of Velveeta between two lightly buttered saltine crackers. The french fries were abysmal. The exteriors were tough and chewy and yielded powdery insides. McDonald's, Burger King and Wendy's all do a much better job of flash frying spuds.

Meanwhile, I slathered a flour tortilla with refried black beans and then added eggs, some tater tots shaped like hockey pucks and a ladle of salsa. As far as breakfast tacos go, and considering what I was working with, I was pleased with my creation. But I was just getting started.

SMU Lunch Breakfast For Lunch.jpg

I attacked the Asian station for round two which gave diners a choice between two starches. The lo mein noodles wore a glossy sheen of oil, and fried rice was mostly plain, save some large clumps of scrambled eggs. Beef and broccoli filled one dish and a chicken stir-fry with peppers filled another while two dishes of vibrant peas and carrots hid at the end of the run. They looked like the most fresh and delicious thing in the cafeteria, but fuck that: Nick found pizza.

Not good pizza, but pizza. Cici's serves better, and if you're paying attention you'll begin to notice a recurring theme. A lot of fast-food places offer better chow than can be had at the RFOC. And it's often cheaper, too. Granted, Chick-fil-A around the corner doesn't offer an all-you-can-eat option, but at least there's real(ish) chicken on their sandwiches, which is more than I can say for the chicken stir-fry, here.

SMU Lunch Chickenless Chicken.jpg
The picture's a little blurry, but there's really not much chicken in that nugget.

As I bit into one of the crunchy, breaded morsels I was absolutely astounded that it contained no chicken. There were small threads of what used to be fowl, but the bird was long gone -- completely fried into oblivion leaving nothing but chewy, oily starch in its wake. The beef had some bulk but was just as arid. I guessed over-cooking might have been partly to blame but I wondered if I'd discovered some latent impact of last year's drought on the beef industry.

If I werer an SMU student and my diet consisted of three meals a day, every day, at RFOC I'd be on antistatins in a month at my age. I'd also be depressed. What started off as a fun idea for a blog post to welcome students back to campus, turned into a very sad realization: This food was much worse than I imagined. This is the foundation of the freshman 15.

It's not all grease and cheese. There's a modest salad bar set up as you walk in. It tempts you with a few trays of lettuce, some vegetables and a selection of dressings you can pour over your healthy creation like pancake syrup. Twice the real estate in the dining room is devoted to a desert bar, though. Why eat carrots when you can eat cake?

My Voice Nation Help

I am an SMU student, and I believe your article does not accurately describe the dining hall. While your complaints are warranted, you do not provide the  whole story. It seems as if the "Healthy on the Hilltop" station was overlooked. This is by far the best food in the cafeteria, concerning both nutrition and quality. There are good options in the dining hall, you just missed them. 


Well, this was a little harsh.  I eat at the SMU RFOC often and it's almost always very good.  Monday was their first day back at cooking the full menu, so they are bound to have some issues.  There is real cheese, butter and sour cream for the baked potatoes, it's just located across the room at the sandwich station. They also have vinegar and oil for the salads, it's not all pre made salad dressing.  You didn't mention the soup seletions which are excellent, there is a sort of home cookin' blue plate station that you didn't mention, and they have a station with Vegan and Gluten Free choices - and those are usually my favorites.  There are plenty of healthy options.


Oh, and a Chiptole-esque custom burrito station!


The UTD Dining Hall was 10x as good as this looks. Instead of premade "stiry fry," you could choose all of your ingredients and a cook would stir fry them kind of like Genghis Grill. The pizza didn't look as sad either. And the dessert area was nuts, like a mini bakery.

Myrna.Minkoff-Katz topcommenter

I'm so glad to hear that SMU takes such pride in its cafeteria cuisine.  Truly inspirational.

J_A_ topcommenter

Wow was food this bad when I went to college? I would think SMU's cafeteria would be 'fancier' with all the rich kids that go there. Foie gras on the buffet line & such.


What was better than the college cafeteria?  Cheap beer at 7-11!  You have to hand it to these places on campus, they can't win for losing.  Also, Aramark is limited by it's sheer's not REALLY food. 


Not all college cafeterias are born equal...IJS


"...for round two witch gave diners a choice.."


Guess it was really scary!


@cityofate come to Dallas Baptist! Our cafeteria is horrible. Maybe an article will help the school realize

scott.reitz moderator

 @mww If you're talking about the salad bar I mentioned it. That station is a small fraction of the offering at the RFOC, and while it may have been healthier I didn't find it any more compelling or of better quality than the rest of the food. Certainly, what's depicted here dominates the dining room.


 @matt777 well... the fries/baked potato spot is literally a tenth of the overall kitchen area or less. there's vegan and gluten free choices, made to order omlettes all day, the stir fry IS made to order with your choice of stuff in it, and theyre usually pumping out hot cookies by the hundred it seems. The food is not super-gourmet, but is is DEFINITELY worth 8.50 for the buffet. 

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