One of the biggest changes for me when I came to college was adjusting to eating on the Campus Dining plan. In high school, I ate breakfast at the same time each day in my kitchen before going to school, lunch when the bell rang at school, and dinner at 6:00 each evening with my parents; once I arrived at Princeton, I realized that not only would my diet change, but I’d have to introduce new flexibility into the timing of my meals.
Princeton made the transition about as easy as possible. The dining halls keep good hours: pre-COVID, breakfast was open from 7:30-11 a.m., lunch was open from 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and dinner from 5-8 p.m. On the weekends, instead of breakfast and lunch hours, brunch was from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. (although one dining hall offered early morning breakfast). And with the unlimited meal plan, you could swipe in as many times as you wanted: I remember going to breakfast many mornings to get oatmeal before my 9:00 a.m. class (one of the few offered — most start at 10 a.m. or later!) and then again to make my own waffle after the class concluded.
If your schedule demanded that you couldn’t make any particular mealtime, Campus Dining offers a (extremely popular) back-up plan called Late Meal. Available to all students on unlimited meal plans, Late Meal happened twice a day, from 2:30-3:45 p.m. and again from 8:30-10 p.m. Students got one ‘swipe’ for each Late Meal, which you could spend on prepackaged snacks like Snapple drinks or Doritos or on hot grill items like quesadillas, specialty hamburgers, or tenders and fries. Even when I didn’t miss lunch or dinner, I very frequently attended Late Meal, even if only to pick up some snacks to stash away for later.
Campus Dining is perhaps at the center of community on campus for first-year students and sophomores. Eating meals in the dining hall with friends new and old is often a welcome escape from homework, and meals you’d intend to last for 20 minutes often stretched into hours as new friends squeezed at your table. Late Meal was perhaps the most popular spot to congregate for underclass students; gathering to catch up with friends over a hot slice of pizza and a soda was often a way for me to relax after class.
You’ll notice a lot of this is in the past tense — COVID-19 protocols on campus have dramatically changed the way dining operates at Princeton. To protect the health and safety of students and staff at the University, options in the dining hall have been reduced, hours shortened and Late Meal temporarily eliminated. Still, Campus Dining and its wonderful staff are working tirelessly to create opportunities for students to enjoy meals on campus, and have worked to make seating in the dining halls available for students at each meal. As with many things during this time, Princeton’s not the same, but the University is striving to preserve the meaning in our most important experiences.