Three wooden signs labeled “Light Training Day,” “Medium Training Day” and “Heavy Training Day” sit on a counter in the athlete-exclusive dining hall, Nona Jo’s. Recommended portions of food from the day’s menu fill sample plates that sit behind each sign.
Tucked on the third floor of the Walter Athletics Center, Nona Jo’s serves daily breakfast and lunch exclusively for Northwestern’s Division I athletes. Rows of stations contain hot meals along with staples of an average Northwestern dining hall such as salads, fruit and a sandwich station. Past the buffet is an expansive seating area surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the lake.
Sitting with a few of their teammates from the Northwestern swimming and diving team, Weinberg fourth-year Markie Hopkins and McCormick first-year Malachi Cohen praise the dining hall’s salmon. Teriyaki salmon, alongside roasted parsnips and a vegetable medley, are among the day’s lunch options. Cohen remarks that the quality of Nona Jo’s food is slightly superior to other dining halls, on top of being healthier and containing more protein for athletes' diets.
Hopkins, who lives off-campus, says she typically eats snacks for breakfast, comes to Nona Jo’s for lunch and then cooks dinner on her own. On top of the elevated food quality, she says convenience motivates her to eat here.
Roasted vegetables, teriyaki salmon and roasted parsnips at Nona Jo's. (Photos by Alex Miranda)
“I remember I kind of liked the [other] dining halls, because I felt like there was more variety in food options,” Hopkins says. “But then I liked being here because I didn't have to leave the building. If I had 10 minutes, I could still run up and grab something.”
Nona Jo’s meals are provided by Levy Restaurants, a sports and entertainment hospitality group that has partnered with Northwestern Athletics & Recreation since 2018. Bridget Mooney, Levy’s executive chef at Northwestern Athletics Venues, wrote in an email to NBN that Nona Jo’s helps student-athletes optimize their physical performance.
“We only use the highest quality ingredients and put emphasis on foods that are high in protein and carbohydrates so student-athletes feel ready to go on game day,” Mooney says.
“We only use the highest quality ingredients and put emphasis on foods that are high in protein and carbohydrates so student-athletes feel ready to go on game day.”Bridget Mooney, Levy’s executive chef at Northwestern Athletics Venues
Petra Rack, Levy’s performance dietician at Northwestern Athletics Venues, works closely with the culinary team to ensure student needs are met. Rack’s team also leads food and nutrition demonstrations, offers cooking classes and creates signs to educate athletes on dietary health.
On that same day that Hopkins and Cohen enjoyed lunch with their teammates, Nona Jo’s signage displayed reminders to drink fluids during training and information on the consequences of dehydration.
“We do all of this because we want to prepare the student-athletes for success both on the field and beyond their athletic career,” Rack wrote in an email to NBN.
Even though Nona Jo’s team of culinary experts and dieticians is closely involved in meal preparation, Northwestern’s student-athletes say they don’t feel boxed in by the dining hall’s dietary options.
“There’s a lot of freedom,” Hopkins says. “They have nutritionists and people and the science available if you want to follow it or reach out and schedule appointments, but they've never been restrictive toward my diet at all.”