By Jonathan Meilaender
Perhaps you have suddenly run out of meal swipes at the Shack. Or maybe you have noticed that a meal exchange is no longer tied to a dollar value. If you have, it’s likely due to the new meal exchange system, which is designed both to streamline meal selection and shorten lines, according to Jamie Ballew, head of Dining Services at Saint Vincent.
While the new red meal exchange sheets with their updated item lists might be the most visible change, they aren’t necessarily the most prominent. Students are now limited to two meal swipes a day instead of three, Ballew said.
“Students eating more meals in the Community Center will help with the long lines in the Shack, as the cafeteria provides more space and a larger variety of dining options for students,” he said.
The cafeteria, Ballew said, is simply better-equipped to offer diverse meal options, including a wide range of healthy meal choices. Lots of work has gone into improving the cafeteria over the last year, he said. This semester, dining services has focused on providing more healthy beverage options.
“There is a trend of moving away from sugary drinks, and more toward infused water, aqua Fresca’s, etc.,” Ballew stated. Dining Services’ current survey shows that this is exactly what students are seeking.
“Water is the number one choice, while soda is running a distant fourth by comparison,” he said. “[W]e are seeing an increase of students eating in the Dining Hall.”
Feedback from students on the changes has been mostly positive, Ballew added.
Ian Tracy, a junior biology major, said that he enjoys the new drinks and that he also thinks it’s a good sign that soda is becoming less popular.
“I think the less soda one consumes, the better. If someone wants to get rid of soda in their diet, then maybe they want to switch to the flavored water. It’s pretty good,” he said.
Tracy also stated that he thinks it’s probably a good thing if more students eat in the cafeteria.
“I feel like it is healthier,” he said. “The Shack is mostly fried foods.”
The Shack has taken some steps to include healthier foods in the new meal exchange system. Originally, more expensive salads with protein weren’t available as part of a meal exchange. Thanks to student feedback, that has changed, Ballew explained.
“There are many different ways that individuals define healthy,” Ballew said. “For example, some count calories, some consider low fat, others may count carbs, low sugar, balanced diet, smaller portions, etc. The Shack menu offers all these options in some form daily.”
But the changes to meal exchange options have also included cuts to the list of items available on a meal swipe.
The majority of items available in the Shack in the past are still available, Ballew said, but it is true though that some items that once were allowed as part of the exchange are no longer available. There are, however, several options that are offered on rotation daily as a side, including fruit cups, coleslaw, pasta salad, potato salad and other options.
Some students think the new meal exchange selection is too small. Shireen Deeb, a sophomore politics major, said she often eats at the Shack because it better fits her schedule, and finds it a nice place to study. But she said it’s hard to get a full meal without using large amounts of flex dollars.
“I eat here, and twenty minutes later, I’m hungry,” she said. “Half the Shack isn’t even included.”
While wait times have gone down and she’s happy that drinks are included in the new meal swipes, Deeb stated she would have been willing to wait.
“The line is faster, but I don’t care to wait if the food is worth it,” she said.
Ryan Farrel, a senior philosophy and politics double major, said he thinks the new system is more streamlined but also wishes he had more choices.
“I like the new meal exchange plan. I think it’s simpler. My one problem is that I can’t get something like applesauce or yogurt with a meal anymore. If they changed that and allowed that to be included as a side, I would like it a lot better,” he said.