On-Campus Dining Gets Culinary – At a Higher Cost for Students

Posted By Terri Williams on October 15, 2015 at 10:30 am
On-Campus Dining Gets Culinary – At a Higher Cost for Students

Aramark, a food services company which serves millions of college students at 500 U.S. and Canadian schools, recently announced that it was transforming the college food experience from campus dining to campus culinary.

With close to 600 chefs, in addition to an army of dietitians and nutritionists, the company’s goal is to deliver restaurant-style dining to college campuses. While options may vary by school, many campuses offer action stations that allow students to select their own ingredients for omelets, pasta, and stir fry, in addition to noodle and burrito bowls. International flavors include Thai Red Curry Beef, Pork Chili Verde, and Latin Beef Stew. The company will also expand its selection of entrees with less than 500 calories, low sodium soups and whole grain sandwiches.

Aramark also operates over 1200 national and regional franchises on college campuses, including Starbucks, Chik-Fil-A, Panda Express, Which Wich, and Einstein Brothers Bagels. Aramark’s proprietary brand, Greens to Go, offers customized salads.

Aramark is just one of several campus dining providers offering culinary experiences. Sodexo, Campus Dining, Bon Appetit, and Compass Group are other companies that provide similar services, and many college campuses are starting to provide students with food that’s more gourmet than the typical fare of ramen noodles and peanut butter and jelly. What are the pros and cons of the upscale campus culinary experience?

Convenient, healthy choices

“The college years are busy, hectic, and a time of great transition for students,” says Beth Winthrop, a registered dietitian and wellness director at Sodexo who manages more than 820 campus dining programs at colleges and universities. “Between academic demands, jobs, and the social, extracurricular, and sports events so crucial for college engagement, students are often challenged to find time to just eat; let alone shop for groceries and prepare healthy meals,” she says.

Winthrop says campus culinary dining can be delicious and nutritious. “By providing appetizing and delicious meals that also meet strict nutrition criteria, we can meet the needs of students looking for healthy options, as well as tempt all students to select a healthier item even if that is not their initial intent.”

She says the availability of fresh foods in “build your own” formats, as well as the exposure to global cultures and different ways of eating can be part of college learning.  “Many campus executive chefs and registered dietitians provide demonstrations and classes on healthy cooking; even in a dorm setting with a shared kitchen,” says Winthrop.

. . .at a higher cost

On-campus dining can be a great value, particularly for students in an “all you care to eat” environment,” says Winthrop. Instead of viewing it as an “eat all you possibly can” opportunity, she says students can have small portions of many different foods without having to pay extra. “For example, a student could start his meal with a salad with plenty of different fresh vegetables or a vegetable soup, and then try a global vegetarian entrée and a whole grain side dish.  With fresh fruit and low fat milk, this is a healthy meal that would be costly in a restaurant environment, and labor intensive to prepare at home.”

However, Jocelyn Paonita Pearson, a recent graduate of the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina who also coaches college students, says a major con of campus culinary dining is that it comes at a cost.

“While I was in college, it was hard 
to find a meal that cost less than $7, and this was two years ago. The high
 prices of eating in the cafeteria were largely because we had well-known
 chains that were able to hold their prices high. Having these large chains 
and promoting eating at franchises certainly encourages students to eat out
 versus preparing meals on their own.


“Without even realizing 
it, I spent over $1,000 eating out my freshman year. When looking for ways
 to save, this absolutely shocked me and was the first area I cut spending,” says Pearson.

”With the current student debt situation and tuition sky-rocketing, spending
 on eating out is only making the current crisis worse. Whenever students
 ask how they can minimize their costs to make their scholarship or loan
 money last longer, one of my first suggestions is always to prepare their 
own meals.” Pearson says there are plenty of affordable recipes on the Internet, and students can prepare a meal for as low as $2. “That could save students up to $15 per day or $400 per month.”

Terri Williams
Terri Williams graduated with a B.A. in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Her education, career, and business articles have been featured on Yahoo! Education, U.S. News & World Report, The Houston Chronicle, and in the print edition of USA Today Special Edition. Terri is also a contributing author to "A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics," a book published by the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago.

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