Opinion: New meal plans have pros and cons

Trevor Hamblin
TMN Columnist Trevor Hamblin evaluates the new meal plans for the 2015-2016 school year.

This year, Truman State’s meal plan options have undergone a dramatic shift. Most of you already have noticed, but the change in how meal plans operate has had monumental effects on student experiences with the University’s dining options. Meals used to be dealt out on a per-semester basis, but now meal plans operate on weekly schedules.

There was much initial optimism about the change, especially from myself, but many now are complaining about the new plan. It’s a complicated issue, and while I do like the new plan, its flaws should be examined.

Sodexo’s meal plan options come in seven varieties, though two of them are exclusive to off-campus students. Three of these meal plan options are week-by-week, with increments of 20, 14 and 10 meal blocks per week. The 14 meals a week plan includes $125 Dining Dollars, while the others include $100. At the end of the week — specifically, at midnight between Saturday and Sunday — the meals reset and any unused meals are gone. Other options include an all-access plan — but with it, meal blocks cannot be used outside of the dining halls and guests cannot be swiped in — and a 150-meals-per-semester plan, which is similar to last year’s options.

Last year, there actually was a weekly meal plan option. It, however, had one major difference to this year’s new plans — meal blocks couldn’t be used outside of dining halls. Similar to the semester-based plans of last year, the new plans allow students to use meal blocks at the Student Union Building or the convenience stores in West Campus Suites and Dobson Hall. This means these plans are more versatile than last year’s.

While the new meal plan options might sound easier to manage, they have some downsides. Because the meals reset weekly, you have to use all your meals or lose them forever. This means Friday and Saturday nights, people start raiding the convenience stores. While this isn’t a new phenomenon — with the old system, this was a common occurrence at the end of each semester — it has been occurring more frequently as people find themselves with an excess of meals to spend. This creates congestion in the stores and a significant lack of products afterward.

The new meal plan system does have its merits, though. With the weekly system, students budget their meals more easily. It’s much easier to figure out how to budget for a week than for a semester, and often the extra meal blocks are convenient for buying snacks or soda to store in rooms. I know I have used several of my excess meals to buy boxes of soda, cutting down on my trips to Walmart. I also have benefited from friends buying extra snacks during the weekly convenience store raids.

The new meal plans have pros and cons, but for the most part I continue to be optimistic about their potential for success this year. Unless the stress of weekly convenience store clean-outs becomes too much for Sodexo, I have faith things will adjust as the semester rolls along. This weekly plan can work, and I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet.