Whether during a bachelor’s or master’s degree or during a semester abroad – in Canada eating meals together is an important social factor. This is already clear during the Orientation Week, in which a joint breakfast, a “Meet & Greet Dinner” or a barbecue is usually part of the fixed program and makes it easier to get to know each other. People like to meet for dinner or at a café between and after the courses, and in the dormitories or shared apartments off-campus, the kitchen often becomes a social hub.
Even if the cultural differences between Canada and Germany are generally not too great, you will surely notice one or the other difference in eating habits. In the following, you will learn what catering can look like while studying in Canada and what options you have on and off campus. You can also find a lot of information about this in the experience reports. By the way, a very popular dish in Canada is “poutine”: French fries with gravy and cheese. But don’t worry: Canada has a lot more to offer in culinary terms than fast food!
Catering on campus in Canada
The universities in Canada are known for their lively campus life and many universities offer on campus almost everything that you need as a student to life. Of course, this also includes a lot of gastronomic offers. In terms of their diversity, these can hardly be compared with German canteens, where the main aim is to cater to a large number of students reasonably inexpensively.
The following gastronomic offers are common at universities in Canada, a major country in North America listed on computerdo:
- Dining halls / cafeterias (basically the same as the canteens in Germany)
- Food courts (often consist of fast food restaurants and other system catering establishments as well as various restaurants / snack bars from international cuisine)
- Food outlets / food trucks
- Cafes and bistros
- One-stop shops with so-called grab and go products (packaged fresh goods such as salads or sandwiches)
The dining halls on the campus of Canadian universities roughly correspond to the German canteens, but are much smaller. This is mainly due to the fact that there are often many other food options on campus (and in its vicinity), some of which are also cheaper than the dining halls. Since Canadians’ main meal is in the evening and not at lunchtime, many students also eat smaller snacks at lunchtime rather than a warm meal. The main points of contact are then the cafés, snack stands (possibly in the food courts) or one-stop shops with pre-packaged sandwiches.
At smaller universities or colleges in Canada, the gastronomic selection on campus is usually not quite as large as at the larger universities. But there is never a lack of at least one dining hall and a café.
A popular meeting point on campus is the Student Union building at almost every university in Canada, not least because it also has drinks and food at student-friendly prices. At the weekend, the Student Union premises are often converted into a party location. Not infrequently there is even a pub on campus with cheap beer prices.
Meal Plans at Canadian Universities
Younger Canadian students (freshmen) and many internationals in particular live in on-campus student residences where there is no cooking facilities and booking a meal plan is therefore mandatory. In this case, the students receive a magnetic stripe card, which is topped up monthly with credit and which they can use to pay for their meals anywhere on campus. Occasionally, the Canadian halls of residence have their own dining hall, where the residents gather three times a day and have their meals together.
The universities mostly offer the Meal Plan in different versions and time options: The Meal Plan can be booked for a month, a term or for an entire academic year. In terms of size, too, the students usually have the choice between a light, regular or full meal plan.
Diversity food and sustainability on campus
Similar to the large campus universities in the USA, there are also many fast food offers and system catering on the campuses of Canadian universities. And the dining halls are not exactly known for promoting a balanced diet. Nevertheless, an increasingly broad range of nutritious and healthy dishes can be found in recent years. Above all, it is the students who demand more initiative from the universities. When it comes to catering, the universities are increasingly responding to the individual needs of their students and offer gluten- and lactose-free, vegetarian and even vegan dishes. In this way, they also react to food intolerances and to the special needs of students with Chronic Illnesses.
As a traditional immigration country, you can find culinary delights from all over the world in Canada and this is now also reflected in the on-campus gastronomic offer: Whether Vietnamese, Italian or Mongolian – the campus cuisine has become international.
Canadian universities are also on the rise when it comes to sustainability. Until recently it was still common practice for universities to completely outsource the catering area on campus, but now they are increasingly assuming responsibility themselves. For example, they only buy goods from the region, sometimes even grow their own fruit and vegetables, and instead of reheated ready-made meals, they cook fresh. Above all, universities with study programs in environmental and agricultural sciences are leading when it comes to offering healthy and fairly traded food, preferably from the region, or growing food themselves.
Off-campus meals in Canada
Various restaurants or snack bars are often located around the campus of Canadian universities. Many students therefore switch to the off-campus offers, as the food is usually cheaper there.
If you live in accommodation during your studies in Canada that has a kitchen and therefore offers the possibility of self-sufficiency, you can save a lot of money. Be it in a shared flat outside the campus or in a dormitory on campus with cooking facilities – cooking yourself is the cheapest alternative. There are supermarkets both on and around the campus, and some are even open 24 hours a day. The best place to buy fresh fruit and vegetables is the Farmers’ Market.
If you live in a student residence with a kitchen, you have to expect that cookware, plates and cutlery are not necessarily part of the equipment. In this case you have to buy the necessary utensils yourself.
Food costs in Canada
The cost of meals while studying in Canada depends entirely on whether you have the option to cater for yourself or whether you are dependent on the offers on-campus and have to book a meal plan. The Meal Plan costs on average between CAD 400 and CAD 600 per month. Even with self-catering, it depends on what and where you shop or whether you often take advantage of the gastronomic offers on and off campus. For a warm meal in the Dining Hall, you should expect an average of around CAD 10. If you don’t cook yourself and only eat in the dining halls or food courts on campus, you can quickly spend around CAD 25 a day on catering during your studies in Canada. So cooking yourself is worth it.
In general, staple foods, especially dairy products, are more expensive in Canada than in Germany. But even in Canada it is possible to keep the cost of living within limits by paying attention to various offers and organizing customer cards for the supermarkets. And even those who have an international student ID can benefit from many discounts.