Just Like Mom's Cooking

November 30, 2006

Stung by jokes about mystery meat and soggy sandwiches, college dining halls are borrowing recipes from the ultimate authority on heartwarming meals: Mom. (And Dad, too.)That’s how Kristina Forzaglia’s favorite dish—her mom’s rich and creamy stroganoff—got on the University of Connecticut menu, along with other students comfort foods from home, such as Albanian chicken wings, couscous with spinach, and pumpkin cookies.

Colleges see the approach as a way to lend a little culinary flair to their cafeteria and relieve homesickness, too.

“It’s a great connection with home for the students, and a way to de-institutionalize a college food service program,” said J. Michael Floyd, food service director at the University of Georgia, which pioneered the approach 20 years ago with its annual Taste of Home competition.

From hundreds of entries that are taste-tested each year, Georgia has selected such winners as eclair squares, poppy seed chicken, and bulldog punch bowl cake.

“These parents aren’t just sharing a recipe,” Floyd said. “They’re sharing a family tradition.”

At Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., barbecued salmon and Thai eggplant dishes had their start in students homes, as did the Ukrainian apple nut squares and whole-wheat cheddar buns.

The practice has been catching on at big universities such as Yale and Harvard and small schools such as Wheeling Jesuit University in Wheeling, W.Va., and Soka University of America in Aliso Viejo, Calif.

Some experts say it is just the kind of idea that would appeal to college-age “millennials”—members of the generation born after 1981.

William Strauss, co-author with Neil Howe of Millennials Rising and Millennials Go to College, said those young adults are more connected with their parents than previous generations.

“By and large, the parents come from a generation that looks back on their college years with a fair amount of positive reflection and happy memories,” Strauss said. “Serving those family meals is an example of a college finding a positive way for the kids and the parents to take advantage of the tighter student-family connections that we already see in this group.”

Connections