By the numbers: Where is your meal plan money going?

One of the concepts for Derby Dining Center's classics line is breakfast for dinner. Concepts are repeated from previous years, but can be altered based on student reception. (Rowan Jones | Collegian Media Group)

The $2,365 that the “All Access” meal plan costs for one semester in Kansas State’s dining halls and the $2,010 for the “Any 14” meal plan may seem like a lot of money just for food. However, there is much more that goes into that amount than just food.

Mary Molt, associate director of the Department of Housing and Dining Services at K-State, said about 40 percent of the meal plan charges are actual food cost.

“We try to get as much of the food as local as possible,” Molt said. “We get much of our dairy from Call Hall here on campus and many of our meats and fresh produce come from locations on campus as well.”

Locally sourcing much of what they give to students not only cuts down on transportation costs, but also improves the freshness of the products, Molt said.

“We’ve got quality food, we’ve got from-scratch recipes and we have people who are passionate about them,” Molt said. “We are a mostly from-scratch production facility, so we have many, many recipes.”

She estimated that Housing and Dining Services has about 12,000 different recipes that they use to prepare food for students, and these recipes have been accumulating since the creation of dining services at K-State.

An additional 40 percent of the cost of meal plans goes toward labor, which includes the student staff who work in the dining halls. Molt said there are approximately 500 student employees and 12 professional staff spread across the three dining hall locations on campus.

In all her years working at K-State, Molt said the staff in K-State’s dining centers are one of the things that she is most proud of.

“They are a great staff of professionals who also have a passion about preparing quality, from-scratch foods for students,” Molt said.

One inevitable aspect of any dining center is food waste, which can occur when students take more food than they need or can eat. This is why Kramer Dining Center did away with trays after its renovation, Molt said.

“Not only did the renovation make the food easier to access and see, but by not having trays we were able to significantly cut down on food waste, since students became unable to load up a tray with food that they would not eat,” Molt said.

Madeline Powell, senior in mass communications, said she also noticed this waste occurring in the dining halls.

“Either students would get too much food and not finish it or ending up not liking it and throwing it away,” Powell, a former on-campus diner, said. “I try to be mindful of it, but I have been guilty of it too.”

The remaining 20 percent of meal plan cost goes toward utilities for the dining centers, equipment repair and replacement and bonds, which pay for new dining facilities like Kramer Dining Center, since they do not receive money from the state of Kansas for construction projects, Molt said.

In the future, those bonds will also pay for updates to Derby Dining Center, which Molt said will occur within a year.