What’s for lunch today? The question hounds me as I weigh what meager options the cafeteria has to offer.
I could go for the green beans, so rubbery they squeak against my teeth when I eat them. There are also the leftover biscuits from morning breakfast, cleverly disguised in cheese and pepperoni. Or how about a classic, dependable chicken thigh—seasoned or sauced, but always on the menu?
But what if there were a better option? What if it didn’t involve the cafeteria at all? What if I could opt out of my meal plan altogether?
Students should be able to decide whether or not to purchase a meal plan. The ability to say no allows students healthier options, eliminates schedule conflicts and gives students more value per meal.
Whether we are choosing to eat healthier or being forced to, freedom from the cafeteria gives us more control over what we put into our mouths. Instead of eating a salad for every lunch and sandwich for every dinner, I would be able to choose. We could all choose—portion size, amount of calories per serving and amount of fat per meal, all while maintaining our own taste preferences.
The dining services website, http://www.campusdish.com/, may provide all the nutritional information for each dish, but not a single main entrée for today’s menu is under 400 calories or 10 grams of fat.
Opting out of a meal plan would also free up students whose schedules conflict with cafeteria hours. Many students have classes through lunch and even dinner, forcing them to take the lunch bag option or forfeit the money already spent on the meal. But sandwiches, fruits, cookies and sodas can get boring day after day.
The same benefits also apply to students who simply aren’t hungry when the cafeteria is open. They feel forced to eat, because any other option leaves tummies growling later. With no meal plan, the students can use the extra money to purchase the foods they want and can eat their meals when it’s best for them.
Finally, eliminating a meal plan may be a better value for some students. For some reason, John Brown University fails to disclose exactly how much of the room and board cost goes toward purchasing a meal plan.
However, some quick math from the dining services web page estimates students are spending about $6.50 per meal. And because we all pay the same whether we have a 21-meal plan or a 12, we must be spending between $1,200 and $2,000 per semester.
We believe that students can easily save money by opting out with a little budgeting and pre-meal planning. Students who now have the ability to switch from a meal plan to a declining balance reported saving at least $200—if not more—during a single semester. That is enough money to cover the cost of books!
All in all, the decision to have no meal plan brings more value to the students who attend John Brown University.
We appreciate the time and effort the cafeteria puts into preparing each meal and widening our options. But in the end, the ability to choose exactly the foods you want, at exactly the times you want, for exactly the price you want is incomparable to rubber beans and yesterday’s biscuits.