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Tuesday, March 28, 2023 — Houston, TX

Campus munches on meal plan changes one semester later

Infographic by Anna Chung

By Viola Hsia     2/15/23 12:35am

Last semester, Rice made changes to Meal Plan A that included the introduction of “Munch,” an additional meal period between 2:15 p.m. to 4:15 p.m. on weekdays and an adjustment in how meal swipes are recorded. 

According to David McDonald, director of Housing & Dining, these changes resulted in an  increase to the amount of meals being served per day, something McDonald expects to continue in future semesters.

“We are serving nearly 10,000 meals a day now, which is record-breaking for us,” McDonald said, “We expect even more meals served next fall with increased enrollment, and we needed to get ahead of this so that chefs and managers have time to work out the enhancements beforehand.”

Besides the additional meal period, which McDonald said helps students avoid the long lines during other meal periods, other changes have been implemented in the serveries this semester, such as the types of food being served.

“Changes we have implemented this semester was adding pizza and burgers at dinner almost every day. We are also experimenting with station specific cuisines, such as [what] was done with the WOK at North,” McDonald said, “Cuisines that have been very popular thus far have been Mediterranean style and Indian style cuisines. We look forward to making these daily items in the future, along with a whole host of other cuisines.”

According to Hunter Brown, McMurtry College president, the meal period has provided more flexibility for students. However, Brown said that there was confusion in the beginning of last semester about how meal swipes are counted in the serveries.

“I would get student feedback all the time, like, ‘Oh, are we allowed two plates? Or are we allowed one plate?’ H&D cashiers didn’t really know what the policy was either, because it would vary between serveries. As a consequence, there was a lot of difficulty for some students in navigating that,” Brown said, “I would say on the whole, it’s gotten smoother as the semester has gone on. But it was definitely a rocky start.”

According to the meal plan FAQ page, one meal swipe allows students to get up to two entrees or serving portions.

Ian Carroll, a junior from Brown College, said that the extra swipes allow students to swipe other students with them in the serveries. 

“Anyone on campus, they get 300+ swipes, which is more than enough to swipe someone in with you for most meals,” Carroll said. 

He added that he wished there were more meal plan options for off-campus students, who can’t go to the serveries as often.

“Two meals a day is usually too much since it’s a large inconvenience to come to campus most weekends. But one meal a day isn’t enough,” Carroll said, “I wish they had a two-meals-a-day [plan] for weekdays. That would probably be a really good option for most OC students.”

Ariana Zhang, a senior from Wiess College, said that it’s been nice to have an additional meal period that works with her off-campus job.

 “On Wednesdays I leave work at 12:30 p.m. but have class at 1 p.m., so I can only eat at 2 p.m.,” Zhang said.

Brown said that despite the additional meal period, there is still the lack of late night dining options for students on campus.

“People are worried that Munch creates complacency because it’s the university saying, ‘here’s our solution to this problem,’ but there’s still that long chunk of time [when] we don’t have anything,” Brown said.

Some suggestions Brown gave in response to this included letting meal swipe plans count toward vending machines that could give students easy late-night food options.

“I don’t know if it’s feasible or not but just having Meal Swipes work for vending machines, possibly just having hot food options in the form of ramen packs, or something,” Brown said, ”Sure, it’s not going to be the same as a home-cooked meal. But at the very least, if we’re giving students nutritious options in a vending machine,.They have something to go to past 7 p.m.”

McDonald said that H&D is aware of the lack of late-night dining options. Vending machines, he said, are being considered. However, one of the more immediate solutions they are considering is extending the dinner period.

“We don’t have it nailed down,” McDonald said. “We are toying with the idea right now of staying up until 9 [p.m.] for dinner.”

McDonald said that this idea was the best way to accommodate both students and H&D staff affected by Houston public transportation hours.

“It feels like 9 o’clock is the best of both worlds,” McDonald said. “It gives many more opportunities for students and also [keeps] in mind the safety and security of our employees.”

McDonald said that, if implemented, this plan most likely won’t happen until next semester.

“Thank you to the students for putting up with us trying to get everything sorted out,” McDonald said. “It hasn’t been as easy as we thought, primarily because of the supply chain and then immediately the inflation side of things. And then of course, finding the labor pool to continue to hire. So I appreciate everyone’s patience with that.”

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