Is the meal plan really that bad?

Leutner Commons is a hallmark of the first-year experience at Case Western Reserve University, famed for its mixed food reviews and undeniable desserts. I think we all have a memory of crawling out of bed at 1 p.m. on a Saturday, stumbling into Leutner wearing pajamas and slippers. The aroma of day-old alfredo at the pasta station invites us to explore the many delicacies that Bon-Appétit has to offer. Like Leutner, many other dining options around campus face scrutiny as students ponder whether the food is worth the large sticker price. And the answer is yes—it is worth it. But not for every student.

First and foremost, the meal plan is convenient. With one swipe, you can get a burrito bowl from BRB Café or a personal pizza from Pinzas or a hot chicken sandwich from The Jolly Scholar. You don’t have to worry about grocery shopping for all the ingredients, planning out when to cook the meal, actually cooking it and then cleaning up after. To do so would demand a minimum of two hours of your time each time that you set out to cook a meal. And then, you’re stuck with leftovers to deal with throughout the week. However, with one meal swipe, you can have a well-portioned meal at your fingertips in minutes. And if you don’t like it, you can just order something else. It’s that easy.

In addition to the convenience, the meal plan provides a plethora of drink options and snacking opportunities throughout the day to supplement your meals. Whether you’re going through caffeine withdrawal and need a coffee fix or are craving a milkshake or a soda, the meal plan’s got you covered. A swipe at Café on the Quad or Jolly will do the trick, even providing you the option to get a little snack on the side. Is it 2 p.m.? Are you a little hungry, but not quite hungry enough for dinner? Just Grab It! or Bag It! These snack stations are a great way to supplement your inter-meal cravings, and you can save them for later if you don’t want to finish them all in one sitting. With a drink in hand and a snack in pocket, you’ll be set for the day.

I think we’ve all had those 11 p.m. cravings—you know, the ones that keep you from going to bed soundly and keep your tummy begging for a little something. It’s a really great thing the meal plan allows you to satiate your hunger at all times of the day. It’s late—order Fribley or Leutner Late Night or The Den by Denny’s. It’s early—order from Plum Market or Elephant Step Inn. The ability to get food at any time of the day makes the meal plan super versatile and able to accommodate most students’ eating schedules.

Another great attribute about the meal plan is it gives you the liberty to choose your aesthetic. If you’re in the mood for a suburban hospital cafe with busy professionals, try BRB. With University Hospitals workers and researchers busing to and fro during their break, the atmosphere allows you to get away from the whole college campus feel for a little bit. Missing your high school? Go to Fribley and Leutner! With rows and rows of tables spread across the dining hall and an open-buffet style of serving, they provide an excellent cafeteria energy that evokes memories of home. Craving that urban coffee aesthetic? Go to Café on the Quad. With the smell of brewing medium roast and freshly-baked desserts greeting you at the door, Café on the Quad provides the perfect vibe to relax and peer through their massive windows. No matter what vibe you’re in the mood for, the meal plan can deliver.

Though there are a lot of great attributes in the meal plan, unfortunately, it’s not for everyone. Vegetarians suffer with fewer options, forcing them to outsource their meals. With meat off the table, vegetarians are limited to mainly carb-heavy options with places such as Local Taco and the vegan section at the dining hall. However, these fail to supplement their diet with an adequate amount of protein, leaving them nutrient deficient. As a result, these students must supplement their diets themselves, seeking out grocery stores and local food options to get their complete nutrition.

Students with severe food allergies also face problems because they risk a life-threatening allergic reaction each time they don’t ask about ingredients or cross-contamination. Because the dining halls need to serve such a vast number of students, offering a variety of different options multiple times throughout the day, cross-contamination can be a huge issue. And oftentimes, the foods that may be compromised are not well-labeled. This adds a communication barrier that prevents the students from being able to confidently trust the food.

Though the meal plan does not work for everyone, it has a lot of great benefits that can make the sticker cost worth it. If maximized, you can cater your dining experience at CWRU to fit whatever lifestyle you seek to create. Bon appétit, CWRU.

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