If you think college dining leaves much to be desired, you haven’t eaten at the Commons Dining Hall on the Bates College campus.
You won’t find the once-familiar one-meal-fits-all college experience of shuffling though a long serving line filled with mystery meat, mac and cheese or scrambled eggs that were recently poured from a cardboard box.
According to Christine Schwartz, assistant vice president for Dining, Conferences and Campus Events, the dining team at Bates College has responded to current food trends as well as to the more conscious eating habits of both its students and staff.
“We strive to provide healthy yet enjoyable meal choices,” she said. “Realizing every student has different preferences, we offer a variety of selections daily including gluten-free, lactose-free, vegan as well as a variety of seafood, meat and poultry options.”
Schwartz added, “We have seven stations to choose from. We have everything from comfort food to vegan specialties to international cuisine.”
But why are we telling you all this?
Because, of the approximately 5,300 meals served daily in Bates’ open and inviting food-court-style dining venue, some are served to non-students: Like at many colleges around the country, the Commons is open to the public.
Neighbors and dining hall fans, including Ralph and Elaine Sylvester of Auburn, often join together for meals at the Commons. (The cost: $6.25 for breakfast, $7.75 for lunch and $8.75 for dinner.)
“The food is wonderful here,” said Elaine. “You could eat here most every day and have something different.”
“And the students are great,” added Ralph. “They are always so polite and friendly.”
Schwartz explained that the primary mission of Bates’ dining hall is to feed the residential student population. “But it (being open to the public) is a great connection between students and neighbors,” she said. “It helps in giving everyone a sense of community and pride.”
There’s reason for pride. The award-winning dining hall offers up plenty of good-tasting, healthy and diverse options.
The salad bar, including items such as wild rice and bean salad, seems endless with fresh fruits, veggies and a variety of toppings and dressings.
For those craving pizza, the “Brick Oven” station serves up an amazing gorgonzola and caramelized onion pizza.
The pasta bar is abundant with various pasta types and sauces, as well as ready-to-eat dishes including lasagna.
How about a cup of lentil or curry rice soup to go with a sizzling sandwich from the “Deli/Grill” station? And let’s not forget the bakery, with the sights and smells of chocolate chip cookies, English toffee bars and yogurt pound cake.
“One of our most popular stations is the ‘Euro’ station,” explained Schwartz. “Students love the home-style offerings such as meatloaf, fried chicken and roast turkey.”
For those choosing the vegan bar, specialty dishes are plentiful, including eggplant and red bean stew, quinoa cakes and gluten-free black bean sauce with broccoli.
And to break up the doldrums, there is Adventure in Dining Day, held every other Wednesday.
“It’s always an adventure!” said Schwartz with a laugh. “Some of our recent themes have been the Olympics, with Russian desserts, or Crazy Corn with all kinds of flavored popcorn. It’s just a great way to break up the week for the students.”
The dining operation’s efforts, which include sustainability and environmental measures, have received recognition, and not just from students and neighbors.
The college is the recipient of a ReNew America Award for its Environmental Sustainability in the category of Waste Prevention/Recycling, and received the Christopher & Dana Reeves Award for Environmental Leadership. The college is ranked among the top 20 green college dining operations in the United States and has one of the longest running farm-to-college programs in the nation.
“And recently we earned a three-star rating from the Green Restaurant Association,” said Schwartz. “We are the only college in Maine to have one.”
In order to be awarded three stars, the dining team follows 65 stringent sustainability practices, including the use of natural light, reducing its carbon footprint, buying more local food and products, and providing a good selection of vegetarian meals.
To help in the effort, communication is always open between students and staff.
“We have the Napkin Board,” said Schwartz. “Anyone can write a comment or request on the board to review. Just recently a student wrote that his family was coming to visit and requested we serve the zucchini and pasta saute. It will be there when they arrive!”

Schwartz added, “We just take pride in offering our customers not only a diverse and eclectic menu, but one which is rich in local products and healthy options.”

English toffee bars

Makes 12 bars


3/4 cup flour

3/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons margarine

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 large egg

3/8 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate bits

3 tablespoons chopped pecans


Preheat oven to 275 degrees and grease a sheet pan.

Sift flour, cinnamon and salt together.

Cream margarine, add sugar and continue creaming until light and fluffy.

Separate egg. Beat egg yolk and vanilla. Add this to creamed mixture and stir.

Stir dry ingredients into creamed mixture, a small amount at a time, and beat well after each addition.

Press mixture evenly into pan, brush top with slightly beaten egg white.

Bake for 35-40 minutes or until lightly browned.

Remove from oven, spread melted chocolate over the top while still hot and sprinkle with nuts.

Lentil soup

Serves 6


1/2 cup celery, chopped

1/2 cup onions, diced

5 1/2 cups stock of your choice

1 teaspoon marjoram, whole leaf

1 can crushed tomato (15 ounces)

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons green lentils

1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons pearl barley

2 garlic cloves, chopped

1 tablespoon olive oil

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper


Heat oil in large pot. Add garlic, onions and celery. Saute for 5 minutes over medium heat.

Add barley and lentils and saute for 5 more minutes, mix in stock.

Add marjoram and crushed tomatoes to the pot.

Bring to a boil for 10 minutes and add salt and pepper.

Simmer for 15 more minutes or until barley and lentils are cooked; adjust seasoning to taste.

Marcia’s zucchini and pasta saute

Serves 6-8


Olive oil

3/4 cup creamy Italian dressing

1 fresh zucchini, sliced

1 tablespoon whole oregano leaves

1 tablespoon fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

1 can diced tomato (15 ounces)

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1 pound penne pasta, cooked

1 1/2 cups four-blend cheese

1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Saute zucchini in oil for 3-5 minutes or until tender.

Add dressing, tomato paste, diced tomato, parmesan cheese, oregano, basil and garlic. Simmer for 5-7 minutes.

Toss in pasta, mix well.

Place in an 8-by-8-inch baking dish.

Top mixture with cheese mixture.

Bake, uncovered, for 2-3 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Eggplant and red bean stew

12 servings


1 medium eggplant, diced

1 12-ounce can stewed tomatoes

1 carrot, sliced

1 8-ounce can kidney beans, drained

1/2 onion, diced

1 clove garlic, whole and peeled

2 ribs celery

1 vegan bouillon cube

1/2 cup water

1 ounce tomato paste

3/8 teaspoon fresh basil, chopped

3/8 teaspoon whole oregano leaves

1 bay leaf, whole

5/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1/8 teaspoon black pepper

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 3/4 ounce fresh parsley


Prepare eggplant, carrots, onion, celery, basil and oregano.

Combine eggplant, tomato, carrots, beans, onion, celery and garlic in a large pot.

Combine water, vegetable bouillon, tomato paste, oregano, basil, crushed red pepper, bay leaf, salt and pepper. Pour over vegetables.

Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 35-40 minutes, until vegetables are tender.

Garnish with parsley just before serving.

Yogurt pound cake

Makes 3 two-pound bread pans


1 pound plus 11 ounces butter

6 3/4 cups granulated sugar

2 cups eggs

7 1/2 cups cake flour

1 5/8 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 pound plus 11 ounces fat-free plain yogurt


Preheat oven to 325 degrees and grease and flour loaf pans.

Cream butter and add sugar until creamy. Add eggs and beat well.

Gently fold in flour and remaining ingredients

Pour into loaf pans.

Bake for 50-60 minutes or until top springs back.

Cool for 15 minutes before removing.

Place desired topping or fruit in bowl and serve on the side.

Butternut squash casserole

Yields 12 servings


5 pounds butternut squash, peeled

1/4 cup milk

5 ounces margarine

4 medium eggs

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup bread flour

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

3/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

For topping:

1/2 cup butter

1/2 cup light brown sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1 1/4 quart bread crumbs


Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cook squash until tender, then beat until smooth.

Add milk, melted margarine, eggs and vanilla. Mix well.

Blend in sugar, flour, cinnamon, ground cloves and nutmeg. Mix well.

Pour mixture into a greased casserole dish. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

For topping:

Melt butter and add vanilla extract. Mix bread crumbs with brown sugar, then slowly mix in butter mixture.

Cover cooked casserole with topping, bake for an additional 15 minutes, until golden brown.

Gorgonzola and caramelized onion pizza

Makes one 14-inch pizza


2 tablespoons unsalted butter

2/3 cup onions, sliced thin

16 ounces pizza dough ball of your choice

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

3/4 cup crumbled gorgonzola cheese

3/4 cup crumbled sausage

1/2 cup pizza sauce

1 1/4 cup four-cheese blend


Melt butter over medium heat.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

Roll out pizza dough.

Saute onions until brown and soft, about 15 minutes on low to medium heat.

Add brown sugar and cook 1-5 minutes longer.

Place sauce, cheeses, onions and sausage evenly on crust.

Bake on a pizza stone or directly on oven rack until done. Approximately 15 minutes.

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