OCH CoverOn-Campus Hospitality



Consider a Switch


After more than 15 years with an all-you-care-to-eat meal plan, Dining Services at Mary Baldwin College in Staunton, Va., operated by Chartwells, made the decision to switch to an a la carte service model — for all the right reasons.

While you might think that the student body would be up in arms over the change, in fact, according to management, they were quite accepting. That is because Dining Services spent a lot of time explaining why the change was made.

In the a la carte plan at Mary Baldwin, students essentially choose an entrée and two sides. They still have the option to take additional items — but only healthier selections like fruit and grains.

Dining Services noted several reasons for the change. First, moving away from all-you-care-to-eat dining would mean a reduction in food waste. Students would not be able to take some of this and some of that, and not eat it all. They would need to think about their choices and be satisfied by eating what they had chosen.

It was also explained to the students that some of the cost savings from cutting the waste would mean more would go toward food purchases. Dining Services would be able to improve the quality of the food procured and also source more locally produced items.

Another reason for the change was the health of the students. Setting a limit on how much they could eat would obviously limit their calorie intake and teach them sensible eating habits when it comes to portion control.

In most cases, when students — before arriving on campus for the first time — ate at home or at school, they may have been limited in the amount of food they could take each time they ate. If they have chosen to attend a college with an all-you-care-to-eat meal plan, they suddenly have the opportunity to eat as much as they want at every single meal.

As Mary VanNortwick, wellness dietitian at Mary Baldwin, puts it, “Many students, like the general population, have a limited understanding of proper portion sizes, satisfaction and fullness signals, choices that constitute a balanced, wholesome meal, what it costs to produce it and how to recreate one for themselves after they move off campus or graduate. College students reflect the national trends for overweight and obesity, subsequent diseases, food insecurity issues and furtherance of this ignorance when setting up households and raising families.”

While some may argue that an all-you-care-to-eat service option is about giving students what they want, is it the right course for the students? If society wants a student population that builds upon the healthful eating habits they may have been developing before entering college, then moving away from the all-you-care-to-eat service model is important.

An a la carte dining plan will not solve all of the health and waste problems on a college campus — but it will help prevent schools from sending conflicting messages to students. On the one hand, students are taught to make healthy choices and only take what they can eat, but in all-you-care-to-eat dining, they are presented with the opportunity to eat as much as they want, perhaps to excess.

While not every school offering the all-you-care-to-eat service model can make the change to a la carte, it is certainly something to consider.