Food for Thought

Pad Thai with tofu, rice paper-wrapped salad rolls, and a grilled Provençal vegetable sandwich. While these entrees may sound like the daily specials at a pricey fusion restaurant, they actually showed up on a recent week’s menu at the University of Evansville.

From smoothie bars to brick-oven specialty pizzas, modern college students’ dining options are a far cry from the chicken nuggets and cheeseburgers of their parents’ college days. Sodexo, the food services titan that handles dining both for UE and the University of Southern Indiana, recently released a list of 2010’s college food trends. The verdict? Young adults still appreciate comfort food — just a more sophisticated version. “Students are expanding the category of feel-good foods to include comfort world cuisine,” says Tom Post, president of campus services for Sodexo, whether that’s a vegetarian jambalaya or Vietnamese pho (a noodle soup).

When UE’s Ridgway University Center opened in fall 2008, the school’s dining options received an upgrade, too: A food court features six restaurants, plus a coffee shop and convenience store. Following suit with the global comfort food trend is Fusion, which switches its menu daily and ranges from custom stir-fry to Greek and Cajun nights. “For the students, the new experience hasn’t worn off yet,” says retiring UE president Stephen Jennings. Also, thanks to Fusion, “I even like tofu now,” Jennings says.

Across town, USI’s dining services also are growing. Next spring, two new restaurants are slated to open: Salsa Rico, serving made-to-order Mexican dishes similar to Qdoba or Chipotle, and Cyclone Salad, offering salads, paninis, smoothies, and other light fare. The choices largely were based on student surveys, says USI’s food services manager, Chris Briggs: “Some of the top things being mentioned were healthier choices and a Mexican concept.”

Briggs estimates that 6,000 transactions take place daily at USI dining facilities, which include The Loft (the main dining facility), Café a la Cart (which sells prepackaged foods), Pete’s Arena (a pizza joint), and several other restaurants. “It’s nothing like it was 10 years ago,” Briggs says. “The selection and variety are enormous.”

Both UE and USI dining facilities are open to the public. To learn more about, visit or

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