US Census data shows that nearly 50% of young adults ages 18–24 are enrolled in or have completed college. Students will continue to be an important demographic as they rely heavily on foodservice. About three quarters of students purchase food/beverages on campus at least once per week or more, and 67% of students order food from an off-campus restaurant, up from 63% in 2013, according to Technomic’s recently released “College & University Consumer Trend Report.”

Students today are more interested in healthier options, ethnic cuisines and trying adventurous foods. One quarter of students also said they would be willing to pay more for ethnically inspired foods. 

Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner

Despite students’ hectic schedules, just one of the three leading breakfast items is portable—fruit. Other top breakfast foods are filling options, such as eggs (preferred by 46% of students), pancakes and waffles (34%), bagels (32%) and cold cereal (32%). This indicates that for breakfast, students favor healthful, nutritious items better suited to sit-down meals. Students who lack the time to sit and enjoy breakfast may simply skip the meal or replace it with a snack, likely fruit or other options that provide energy without ruining their appetites for lunch.

Students’ preferences for lunch and dinner vary, attributed to differences in where they source these meals. At lunch, students are constrained by time, making portability and service speed more important. Sandwiches, pizza, burgers and salads are common in on-campus dining halls where students often buy lunch. Conversely, students are more likely to purchase dinner off-campus where they have more options, and they prefer more substantial foods like meat and pasta dishes for dinner.


A student’s lifestyle lends itself to snacking.  When it comes to choosing a snack, 78% of students say that taste is most important, followed by ability to satisfy between meals (67%) and price (62%). The vast majority of students snack between lunch and dinner.

Younger students tend to snack more than their older counterparts and prefer potato chips or pretzels, baked goods, cookies and candy. Fresh fruit is preferred more by younger students (36%) than older (27%), likely because more younger students skip meals, and fresh fruit may be an attractive, nutritious snack for a replacement. Similarly, more women than men skip meals and prefer fresh fruit (41% of women vs. 26% of men). When older students do reach for a snack, they find health-related attributes and uniqueness to be very important.