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Jang: Don’t Make Freshmen Pay for Meal Plans

The disparity between the quality of food and its price remains apparent. If meal plans are to be mandatory, more affordable options must be offered.
Luke Larsen
University of Utah students purchase food in the Carolyn and Kem Gardner Commons at the University of Utah on Wednesday, Jan. 31, 2024. (Photo by Luke Larsen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)


With the start of a new semester comes another round of tuition payments. College tuition comprises not only course fees but also additional necessities such as mandatory fees, housing and meal plans.

Freshmen bear this financial responsibility each semester. Regardless of individual meal preferences or dietary requirements, freshmen must select a meal plan option annually.

Freshmen must be able to choose whether to enroll in a meal plan.

Meal Plan Updates

Tuition fees for in-state undergraduate students at public four-year institutions rose to an average of $10,940 in the 2022-23 academic year. This represents an $190 increase compared to the previous year. This indicates a cumulative tuition increase of $6,070 over the past three decades.

The University of Utah’s Housing and Residential Education recently updated its meal plan options for the 2024-25 academic year. The cheapest option available to freshmen in the 2023-24 academic year was Plan 8, priced at $1,868 per semester, with eight meals per week and no meal transfers. However, Plan 8 has been discontinued, and the new most affordable weekly meal plan for freshmen is Swoop Gold, which offers 10 meals per week at $2,585 per semester. While it includes transfer meals, the difference between these two options is staggering.

The difference between the two plans is about $50 per week — certainly more than the cost of the two extra meals per week. And for those wanting less than ten meals per week, any unused meals don’t carry over from week to week on this plan. If students opt for the semesterly plans, meals carry over, but these plans can be less practical: Swoop Bronze is just $1,209 per semester but only provides 40 meals, about two and a half meals per week, while Swoop Silver is much more expensive than Swoop Gold at $2,768 despite providing 150 meals per semester, the same 10 meals per week as Swoop Gold.

Freshmen Perspectives

U freshmen students Saee Ashtaputre and Diya Mandot, currently enrolled in Plan 8 while living at Kahlert Village, expressed dissatisfaction with their meal plans. 

“Every week you get eight meals, and if you don’t use them, it just goes to waste,” Mandot said. “It doesn’t transfer over. There was just one week where we cooked, used two meals, and six went to waste. All of them are money.”

HRE allows freshmen students to use transfer meals starting this fall, but only with the onset of the new, more expensive plans. This arrangement is unsatisfactory for those who don’t require up to 10 meals or prefer to cook.

Ashtaputre suggested optional meal plans, which could better suit individuals needs.

“We could get groceries from home or go to the Honors Market and cook instead,” Ashtapture said.

Based on 2023 statistics indicating the cost of groceries for college students in Utah is $176 per month, purchasing groceries is significantly cheaper than a meal plan.

Mandot expanded on the idea by suggesting options students could pursue if the meal plan weren’t obligatory. These options encompass obtaining free food from the Feed U Pantry at the Student Union or participating in various campus events. 

“Even if we get canned items, which may not be the most appetizing, it still gives us an opportunity to save money,” Mandot said.

“As a vegetarian, there are only two or three options in the dining halls for us to take,” Ashtaputre said. “Either we get the black bean burger and pizza, or a burrito with no protein, which — all of them are so unhealthy.”

Mandot added, “It’s the same food every day. It’s genuinely impossible to eat the same food every day. We like to cook because we don’t want that food anymore.”

Addressing Student Needs

Ashtaputre and Mandot called for greater flexibility and understanding regarding freshman meal plan options. They stressed the importance of recognizing individual dietary preferences and financial circumstances, suggesting that optional meal plans or lower costs would better serve students who prefer cooking or have specific dietary requirements. 

Mandot referenced friends who excel at cooking and rarely use their meal plans, emphasizing the need for more tailored options to accommodate varying student needs.

“They just don’t require a meal plan,” said Mandot. “They use meal transfers a lot more.” 

The disparity between the quality of food and its price remains apparent. If meal plans are to be mandatory, offering a broader array of dining options or reducing costs are necessary alternatives. 

Ashtaputre suggested “making it less expensive for students who may struggle to afford the approximately $2,000 fee each semester.”

This adjustment is particularly crucial for individuals with specific dietary preferences like Ashtaputre. Given the increasing popularity of plant-based diets and veganism worldwide, there is a clear need for an expansion of grocery and vegetarian options.

Each freshmen student possesses their own unique preferences and choices.  Being a freshman doesn’t automatically imply a need for meal plans. While some students might benefit from the structure, students like Ashtaputre and Mandot are adept at budgeting and managing their sustenance. 

The university must strive for a deeper understanding of each individual freshman’s circumstances. Making meal optional will ensure students do not waste money and can invest in their genuine needs.


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About the Contributors
Eseudel Jang
Eseudel Jang, Opinion Writer
(she/her) Eseudel Jang is an opinion writer for the Daily Utah Chronicle and is majoring in journalism at the University of Utah. She loves interviewing and getting to know people from different backgrounds. In South Korea, she served as a head writer of a production team at the U's Asia Campus. Passionate about promoting children’s rights, Eseudel has marketing experience with a children’s foundation. Also an avid coffee lover, she holds a barista certificate and enjoys writing personal blogs at cafes.
Luke Larsen
Luke Larsen, Photographer
(he/him) Luke started at the Chronicle in the fall of 2023. He is currently studying anthropology. He has worked as a professional portrait photographer since 2021 in Waco, Texas, where he has lived for the past ten years. He is originally from Los Angeles, California and loves Dim Sum.

Comments (1)

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    John HedbergFeb 3, 2024 at 10:01 am

    Is this an option?

    When I was a Freshman, I worked in the dining hall, first in food prep, then as a cook, and also as a server. I had shifts in the afternoon, and sometimes I did breakfast at the fry grill, making scrambled eggs and rainbow omelets (lots of cheerful vegetables added). Sometimes, I got meals for free on those shifts when I worked, and this also gave me money for room & board.

    Later on, I subbed myself out to a temp service doing full 8-hour shifts on factory floors, sometimes on my days off, sometimes evenings. That took a lot more energy & focus, so I’m not sure I recommend that for Freshman who are still trying to get situated, not until they hit their swing and start getting those sassy grins back~! 😂

    I later applied for HRE as a student assistant (RA), but their Equity religion requires them to judge candidates not by the content of their character, but by the color of their skin, so HRE wouldn’t hire me: I looked too scary~! 😎👨‍🎓 For those of you who look like the top faces on the Equity Totem-pole, you may have better luck being hired, though I’m not sure now that I’d want to work under that level of enforced discrimination. I think Equity’s racism, sexism, and hetero-phobic bigotry is just morally reprehensible, and I gave them that feedback eventually as a student.

    Keep your chin up! The people who are Love-based on campus, and accept everybody for who they are, make all the Equity hate-mongers, who place a value on your humanity for how you look at first glance, seem much more worthwhile, if you can imagine that~! 😋