Opinion: Dining centers should remain open all day

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The dining centers at K-State are pretty special. Rather than put it in the hands of a private company like Sodexo, K-State’s Housing & Dining Services self-runs an operation that spends every cent on food, staff and maintenance, rather than trying to turn a profit.

The service students get at both Kramer and Derby Dining Centers are also noteworthy, garnering awards from the National Association of College and University Food Services such as the Loyal E. Horton Dining Awards Competition, as well as winning the Most Innovative Nutrition Program competition in 2010.

In addition to the usual menu of pizza, hamburgers, salads, sandwiches and pasta university dining centers are known to stick to, K-State’s dining centers have pushed to increase their options to even include matzo on request for those observing Passover or those just curious about what the unleavened bread tastes like.

Though I personally enjoy what the dining centers can accomplish for students living in the residence halls, as well as those who spend a lot of time on campus who don’t have the time to cook like myself, I think the hours in which I can make use of my meal plan are somewhat lacking.

The two main dining centers, Derby and Kramer, segment serving time into three blocks: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. While the closed breaks in between meals aren’t terribly long, I feel that this window can still leave out students with particularly hectic schedules.

While many students have fairly cemented schedules that are flexible enough to comply with the current range of hours, it’s not uncommon for students to have days where they need late lunches, early dinners, or simply a quick bite in their stomach before they go off to their next class, chapter meeting, group project, interview or what have you. Given the prices of meal plans at K-State, missing out on a meal doesn’t just mean you go to your afternoon class hungry – it means you are also going broke.

Let’s take the lowest-tier meal plan for off-campus students that offers five lunches or breakfasts per week throughout the semester for $663. Assuming that the semester is approximately 13 weeks, for five meals each week, each meal on that plan is worth about $10.20. This is reasonable, given that it’s all-you-can-eat and includes guest passes and Marketplace Dollars, but it’s still a lot of money to leave on the table each time your lab goes longer than you expected.

According to Mary Molt, associate director for Housing and Dining Services, students getting the most out of their money is a top priority for housing and dining.
If the cost of keeping staff for those few extra hours is worth it, she said, then a continuous dining center option would definitely be worth considering.

In fact, since an idea is already being conjured as plans are made to completely renovate the Kramer complex to meet new housing demands, it’s far from an unrealistic demand to have.

Not only do I think those few extra hours could help students with crazy schedules, but I also believe the added flexibility could entice better nutritional habits on campus, which in turn could increase academic performance. Hear me out: it’s not as crazy as it sounds. College students need to eat, but don’t have as many opportunities as they should. If you live off campus, you may not have the time to drive home, make lunch and then make it back to campus on time (after finding a new parking spot, no doubt). Even if you brought a sack lunch or relied on the food court in the K-State Student Union, it would be difficult and arguably not that much cheaper to eat healthy when you’re spending your Mondays through Fridays on campus.

It’s not hard to understand why easier access to healthy meals would benefit students. Well-fed students have more energy and alertness to get through the day. According to a study conducted by the Linus Pauling Institute out of Oregon State University, “good nutritional status is important for proper brain development and maintenance of normal cognitive function.” While skipping meals and instead relying on microwave ramen, protein shakes, energy drinks and Clif Bars (a personal favorite of mine) may keep you running, it’s simply not a good habit to keep up in the long run – but that’s another opinion article for another day.

While it seems pretty benign to extend hours at one of our dining centers to be continuous, I feel it is a small decision that could have a big impact. I think it would increase the number of students able to take advantage of housing and dining’s award-winning service, increase the value current users get out of their plan, and offer an alternative plan for all the students stuck in late-afternoon studios, labs and lectures. Plus, this could happen with minimal additional cost.

K-State Housing and Dining welcomes students’ opinions on their website, so chime in if you’ve got an opinion on this issue. Or stop by the dining centers. Just be sure to try a slice of the pizza there while you’re at it; it’s awesome.

Parker Wilhelm is a senior in mass communications. Please send comments to opinion@kstatecollegian.com.

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