The Yale dining hall system will be an integral — although not always enjoyable — part of your life. With dining halls in each of the 12 residential colleges and Commons, the food is certainly varied and plentiful, but not always delectable.

Freshmen are required to be on either the 21-meal plan or the unlimited meal plan. With the unlimited plan, you can “swipe in” to the dining halls as often as you like. Beginning your sophomore year, you can switch to the 14-meal plan, which costs the same as the 21-meal plan but provides you with $100 Flex dollars per semester. (Flex dollars can be used at Durfee’s, Yorkside, Naples and Au Bon Pain). As long as you live on campus, you are required to have a meal plan.

Commons is open from 7:45 a.m. to 9 p.m. and offers salad and sandwich bars, a waffle iron, and a frozen yogurt machine at all times, as well as hot food during regular meal hours. It’s is a popular place for freshmen to eat lunch between classes and inevitably becomes quite crowded.

The dining hall system was created to foster a sense of community in the colleges, so upperclassmen and administrators will urge you to eat in your college’s dining hall, no matter how far it is from your freshman year housing. The dining hall is a great place to meet upperclassmen and meet up with people from your own class.

Each dining hall is distinct in its own way and offers some food options not found in all the others. Many of the colleges now have frozen yogurt machines, and several offer grilled items like chicken, hamburgers and veggie burgers at lunch and dinner. Ezra Stiles, Morse, Pierson, and Silliman colleges offer grain bar stations called “Pan Geos” which rotate each semester. Pan Geos meals are cooked fresh; previous stations have included Latin food, wrap sandwiches, grains, pasta and Asian food.

Commons is the only place to get a hot breakfast during the week. On Saturday and Sunday mornings, Ezra Stiles and Calhoun dining halls are open for continental breakfast, and all of the dining halls open at 11 a.m. for brunch.

To break the monotony of dining hall food without spending money to eat off campus, there are several options around campus. The Slifka Center for Jewish Life offers Shabbat dinner on Friday nights, which has proven to be a popular meal for students of all religions because of the high-quality food. Slifka also hosts Wednesday pasta dinners, Friday pizza bagel lunches, and occasional Sunday bagel brunches which always draw crowds. Slifka is open for lunch and dinner every day, and a Slifka meal plan is available for students who wish to keep kosher while at Yale.

The School of Management dining hall is a popular option for students making the trek up and down Science Hill. Students can transfer to SOM for lunch and get fresh sandwiches, salads and other alternatives to regular dining hall fare. The Law School dining hall is frequently filled with undergraduates at dinnertime, but they cannot transfer meals there for lunch. The Law School offers hamburgers, pizza, chicken sandwiches, hot food selections, Snapple and Fresh Samantha beverages, and lots of bagged candy and chips. If you’re going out to dinner and don’t want to waste your dining hall money, you can always transfer to the Law School and stock up on snacks for your room.

Some meals are better than others. Right before breaks, you can definitely tell when the cooks are cleaning out the closets, and sometimes on weekends supplies run low. But the dining halls are more of a place to socialize and become a part of your college community than to satisfy your gourmet tastes. You’ll learn to savor even the vegan shepherd’s pie — we promise.

–Yale Daily News