National ranking puts Mason at the head of the table for campus dining

The President's Park Hydroponic Greenhouse, which provides vegetables for Mason dining halls, is one of the reasons cited by The Daily Meal for Mason's high ranking. Photo by Alexis Glenn.

Food website The Daily Meal has selected George Mason University as one of the top colleges for food in America, citing the university’s nutritious options, sustainability practices and menus that serve a diverse student population.

The site, which had not included Mason in its previous six annual lists, ranked Mason No. 21 out of the 2,000 U.S. colleges it considered. The criteria, based on student surveys, included accessibility and service, nutrition and sustainability, education and events, available food within a five-mile radius of campus and other factors.

In its evaluation of Mason, the Daily Meal noted that “chefs and registered dietitians have created meals in compliance with their Mindful Program—transparent ingredients and satisfying portions of good food—in 70 percent of the university’s dining halls to ensure that students have access to a healthy and balanced diet.”

Mark Kraner, executive director of Mason’s campus retail operations, said the many steps the university has taken to address food quality, dining options and sustainability practices have made an impression on students. Those efforts include adding allergen-aware stations in dining halls, using local foods—including produce from the campus greenhouse—offering more halal meats and plant-based entrees, adjusting meal plans to avoid food insecurity and composting.

“We’ve been adding things to the program to make what we do here on campus better for students and to meet the university’s goals for sustainability and wellness,” Kraner said. “It’s really starting to show.”

The quality of dining options on campus matters to both current students and prospective ones, Kraner said. Any ranking that highlights the quality of meals at Mason can be a selling point. Virginia Tech, the University of Virginia, and James Madison University also appeared among the 75 colleges cited in the Daily Meal food rankings.

“When students come to campus for visits, they pretty much have decided on the academic side, and now they’re looking at the dining, the housing, the recreation,” Kraner said. “[Food options] are an important factor as they look at where they’re going. We need to have services that meet their needs.”

Sustainability practices also play an increasingly significant role in how students rate their overall campus dining experience. The Daily Meal considered Mason’s composting and recycling efforts, as well as its strawless dining halls and on-campus greenhouse.

Margaret Lo, director of Mason’s Office of Sustainability, said hundreds of students help grow and harvest nearly 2,000 pounds of vegetables for Mason’s dining halls annually.

“Mason students are really interested in fresh, healthy, sustainable food options, and Mason Dining is continuously trying to improve those offerings,” Lo said. “The food choices that students make each day—sometimes three times a day or more—are tangible ways that students can get involved and make a difference on campus.”

“We’ve been adding things to the program to make what we do here on campus better for students and to meet the university’s goals for sustainability and wellness. It’s really starting to show.”

Mark Kraner, executive director of Mason's campus retail operations