A matter of convenience?

The new unlimited meal plan is not one-size-fits-all.

Hanna Bubser, Senior Collumnist

One thing that is unarguable is the price. The unlimited meal plan is ticketed at $2,629.00, as listed on the dining services website. That is a decent chunk of money, and for some students it is simply not worth it. A first-year that spoke with me mentioned that she pays her own tuition and is frustrated by the fact that money she works hard for goes to a meal plan that she uses maybe twice a day. Another student said that they would rather buy their own groceries at Aldi, where there are cheaper options and a better selection for their dietary restrictions. They feel as though they are “throwing their money” at something they can’t really use.

Honestly, that’s similar to how I felt my first year. My meal plan was almost a sore in my side at some points. Although I don’t have any food allergies or restrictions, I wasn’t always impressed with the selection. In addition to that, I wish I hadn’t chosen the $800 declining balance (which is no longer even an option) because I really struggled with finding good ways to spend it. Towards the end of the year, I was buying things for other people or just buying items at random because I didn’t want to waste money. After that, I knew that I didn’t want to deal with a meal plan again.

Luckily, my roommates and I had secured a spot in the apartments, so I didn’t have to. I recognize that is not always the case for some students, but being in charge of my own food has been one of my best fiscal decisions to date. All access dining sounds ideal, right? Since students who live on campus are required to have a meal plan, being able to use the cafeteria all day (including a grab-and-go option), seems like the best of both worlds. Essentially, you have access to a kitchen that you don’t have to prep and clean, along with all kinds of food that you don’t have to make yourself. The kitchenettes in the dorms are not always seen as viable options for students to do their own cooking, so the cafeteria on campus makes things easier on students.

The new meal plan implementation was put into practice with the best of intentions. The all access plan offers unlimited meals per semester at the Bishop’s Bistro and $400 in declining balance. While upperclassmen are being grandfathered in to the transition, new students are among those who are required to have this specific plan. That being said, even if the plan is meant to be helpful, is it worth it for those who have no other choice?

I must admit, it has been years since I have had an official meal plan. The one I enrolled in my first year landed me with $800 in declining balance, which proved to be entirely too much. I had around two meals a day at the Bishop’s Bistro, and never came close to using them up. Maybe I didn’t use the meal plan to my advantage, but the majority of the time I felt like I wasn’t getting the most out of it. After that year, I moved to the on-campus apartments where I didn’t need a meal plan but was instead given $200 declining balance to use. This was much more practical for me.

Obviously, much has changed in dining services since I started at Hamline in 2015. The biggest change is this new meal plan, but since I am now a commuter student without meals or declining balance on my student account, I don’t have firsthand experience with it. However, I still wanted to look into exactly how this change is affecting new students, since we are now close to a month into the semester.

When I first reached out for opinions on this issue, several first-years seemed excited about the meal plan; it has been working well for them. A few students mentioned that they enjoyed the fact they could grab a drink or a salad on the way to class by using some of the reusable containers offered by the school. One student mentioned that the biggest downside she saw was that the unlimited plan makes it harder to limit your portions. This means that, because you can have as many meals or grab-and-go-snacks as you want, it is easier to overeat, which could create a toxic environment for some students. On the other hand, having that sort of access to food may be exactly what a student needs. It goes both ways.