Safe Dining at UNC this Fall: The Basics (Part 1)

Sarah Faigle, RD, MPH and Cynthia Bulik, PhD

Welcome to a three part blog series on safe eating after returning to college. This post is for a general UNC student audience, Part 2 will be for individuals with eating disorders, and Part 3 will discuss food insecurity on campus in the fall.

The fall return to school is always a time of transition and expectation. This year, the change and uncertainty associated with COVID-19 is affecting all aspects of the back to school planning including campus dinning, grocery shopping, and meal prepping. The keys to maintain healthful balanced food intake this fall may be creativity, flexibility, and planning.

AA woman maskIf you live on-campus at UNC you will be allowed to have a meal plan and use the Chase and Lenior dining halls. Campus dining (CDS) has been working tirelessly to adjust their operations to meet the needs of their students this semester, with safety being the top priority. Dining halls will have daily deep cleaning, socially distanced seating, mask requirements, and no self-serve food options. While there will be more limited options in-person CDS has increased the availability of order-ahead and delivery options via the GET app. The traditional take-out options such as Med-deli, Chick-Fila, and Chola Naad will remain available. In addition CDS is working on a food truck program to increase pick up options for students. Details of these services as well as descriptions of safety precautions are available on the campus dining website ( Students also have access to the campus dining dietitian for assistance navigating special needs such as food allergies (

For those living off campus and in the community, shopping and cooking will look different as well. Many people are working from home and taking classes primarily on-line this semester. Being at home non-stop may have down sides but, it presents many new opportunities for planning and cooking. We all need to be limiting the time we spend in public places so planning ahead for grocery shopping is a public service. Remember there are many non-students who live in Chapel Hill and Carrboro and having a lot of students hanging out in the grocery store increases risk of exposure to COVID for them. Whether you are planning for one, for family, or for roommates having an outline of meals and a grocery list is imperative to make your shopping experience efficient and safe for all. Also, leave some extra time as you might have to wait outside in line if the maximum number of customers inside has been reached!

If you are uncomfortable going to the store, have time or transportation limitations, and have enough money, then delivery services may be an option. Many grocery providers such as Amazon, Whole Foods, Instacart, Task Rabbit (and Harris Teeter to some locations) provide online shopping with curbside pick-up or delivery options. If you are able to, tip you’re your delivery person—they are front line workers! Many of these services do involve a fee so if you’re on a limited budget sharing shopping duty with a roommate may be more economical. If transportation is not a limitation, Harris Teeter, Walmart grocery, and Target provide free drive up options.

Increased time at home may lead to more opportunities for crock pot meals, roasting meats and vegetables, baking bread, or simply putting a fresh salad together straight from the refrigerator—all options that aren’t available to us when we are on the go. Try not to assume you can make all your meals and snacks on the spot just because you are at home. Our locations may have changed, but our schedules remain demanding. Plan meals and snack times like you would if you were leaving the house.

If you live in a shared dining situation, remember that sharing food and drinks can transmit COVID. The best option is individual meals. But if you have to share cooked dishes, don’t share utensils (i.e., don’t dish out food from a shared pot with a spoon that you used to eat and no double-dipping!), don’t pass dishes around from person to person, and wear a mask and gloves if you are dishing out food to others. Have hand sanitizer freely available in the cooking and dining area and use it often! If you have any symptoms or tested positive, please eat alone until you are declared healthy and noncontagious.

On days when you absolutely need to leave the house, take out options with Grab and Go remain a safe choice. Just remember to wear a mask while picking up your order!

Here are some additional guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control

Shared kitchens, dining rooms, laundry rooms, bathrooms

  • Access should be available, but the number of people should be restricted so that everyone can stay at least 6 feet apart from one another.
  • People who are sick, their roommates, and those who have higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 should eat or be fed in their room, if possible.
  • Do not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, or eating utensils. Non-disposable food service items used should be handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.
  • Guidelines for doing laundry such as washing instructions and handling of dirty laundry should be posted.
  • Sinks could be an infection source and should avoid placing toothbrushes directly on counter surfaces. Totes can be used for personal items so they do not touch the bathroom countertop.