(Photo courtesy: Kara MacDougall) “A customized sandwich offered in the dining hall.”
Although I am a junior at UMass Lowell, I had never tried any dining hall food until this week. I asked a few students around South Campus about their experiences dining at McGauvran Center to prepare for my first two UML lunches and found myself pleasantly surprised with both the quality and variety of foods available.
There are a few different reasons as to why I had never tried any dining hall food until this week. First, I am a transfer student, so I am fairly new to UML. I am also a commuter. There aren’t too many luxuries associated with the half hour drive to school, but living at home and indulging in my mom’s cooking is one of them. I am only on campus for a few hours a week, and I typically pack my meals ahead.
The last reason is that I run often, and I don’t like to be bogged down by the greasy meals I have always associated with dining hall food. My mission this week was not only to navigate this new part of campus but to locate meals that fit well into my lifestyle.
“I usually get the sandwiches,” said sophomore political science major Jahir Palma. “The salads are good and I like them, but sometimes it just doesn’t feel fresh.”
I wanted to try both of Palma’s suggestions since another student I interviewed, sophomore liberal arts major Manny Tejada, had a similar outlook. Unlike Palma, Tejada has a meal plan and eats at McGauvran Center multiple times a day.
“My favorite [option] is probably the omelet station in the morning and the breakfast sandwiches,” Tejada said. “Otherwise, anything in the True Balance area… and the make-your-own sandwich station.”
Although I heard great reviews about the omelets from multiple students, lunch would be the optimal time for my visit due to my schedule. I decided I would try a sandwich for one meal, then return the following day for a chance to try a salad and the True Balance station.
“[True Balance] has the best variety I think, and they’re very consistent in providing something you would order at a restaurant,” said sophomore Genevieve Thacker, who majors in applied biomedical sciences. “They have very well-rounded options. They’ll offer you a main and two sides.”
I didn’t want to be too overwhelmed for my first visit, so I avoided what Thacker referred to as the “busiest” time, between 12 and 1 p.m. I entered McGauvran Center for the first time around 2 p.m. on a Thursday, and it was still relatively crowded.
I took Thacker’s advice of “taking a lap” before settling on the sandwich station, where I then ordered a ham and cheese sub with tomato, raw onion, pickles and pesto mayo. I feel like it was just a very standard sandwich and not very flavorful. This sandwich station might have a hard time competing with the Subway within walking distance.
For day two I decided to brave an even busier time of day: 12 p.m., the start of the lunch rush. At the True Balance station, which is gluten-free, I was surprised at how serious the staff seemed to take allergy protocols. I grabbed my own plate but was kindly told I would be served by the dining hall staff, who then provided me with a serving of braised beef and roasted sweet potato.
The sandwich from the previous day was good, not great; the True Balance meal was delicious. It was seasoned well and very filling, and the wholesome ingredients made me energized. I cleaned off my plate and barely had room for the salad I had planned to try.
I was glad to see there were different options for protein at the salad station. I chose chickpeas. There was also tofu, both of which would be great alternatives for students who don’t eat meat. The salad was sort of bland, but it accomplished its goal of being a healthy side option.
I have only had a small taste of what McGauvran Center has to offer so far, but I am glad that I am more comfortable in this setting since it is so convenient to stop by between classes. Speaking to a few different students on campus changed my mindset about the stigmas surrounding dining hall food. I will continue to visit now that I purchased a small meal plan, so that I can experience a wider range of food options.
I will have to come back soon to try the omelets, which received rave reviews from many students on campus. Now, I just have to get to campus for breakfast before my 9:30 a.m. class.