For today’s college students, on-the-go lifestyles present a challenge when it comes to finding time to eat, and, more specifically, eat well.
In 2010, when Adriana Marie Reyes of The University of Arizona surveyed 219 undergraduate students for her honors thesis on what influences college students’ eating habits, 82 percent said they would eat healthier if time were not an issue.
Campus dining programs have long included venues located across campus, with options ranging from cafes in libraries to sandwich shops in academic buildings or national fast food franchise brands found anywhere on campus. To meet the growing demand for portable, fresh food, campus dining teams are coming up with creative ways to feed their populations high-quality mobile meals on campus.
A fresh take on delivery
Northland College in Wisconsin has operated a “Take and Make” meal plan in association with Chartwells since fall 2012. A crate of ingredients—such as spinach, apples, rice and fish—is delivered weekly to participating students’ residence halls. The crate may also include granola bars, soda, milk and cereal.
The items, which are, when possible, organic and from farms and businesses that align with the mission and vision of Northland College, come with recipes. About 40 percent of the food provided is locally grown, and Northland plans to eventually have 80 percent of its food provided by local suppliers.
Michele Meyer, Northland’s vice president for student life and institutional sustainability, says that Take and Make was created at the request of students, who sought a plan where they could prepare meals in their apartment or townhouse kitchens, or in the group kitchens of traditional residence halls.
In 2014, 54 of Northland’s 438 students on meal plans purchased the Take and Make plan, a 10 percent increase from 2012.
To add momentum to the program, Northland also offers a “Cooking 101” class each semester for 15 students who can earn credits as part of the school’s wellness curriculum.
Chartwells has arranged for food suppliers to participate in the class. The suppliers discuss farming and local purchasing, and also share recipes. Meyer says that many of the farms employ students during the summer and fall.
Northeastern University Dining Services in Boston chose architectural firm PCA to design a deli-to-go space to serve students who don’t live in dorms but want access to dining halls and desire a quick meal option without having to enter the dining hall. The deli is also available to faculty, staff and guests as a quick alternative.
Meeting students’ needs on the run
Today’s college students generally aren’t looking to compromise on convenience or nutrition. To keep busy students informed about their food choices, Loyola University Maryland breaks down dietary information.
Director of campus services Jen Wood says, “Calories are becoming less important and what benefits the food has are becoming more relevant, such as an item being a great source of calcium or vitamin D.
Loyola also caters to students’ dietary requirements. “At each major dining location on either side of campus, we have allergen stations where we provide dairy-free, nut-free, vegetarian and gluten-free options,” Jon Bentz, assistant director of dining for Parkhurst Dining at Loyola, says.
“All of our signage, for all items, has identifiers that show whether the item being served is low fat, gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, and free from various kinds of nuts. Parkhurst also provides us with signs, on a bimonthly basis, with information about healthy eating and consumption habits.”
Savannah College of Art and Design dining staff buys healthy, fresh ingredients in season, using as much of the product as possible. “Trimmings and bones to make stock, for example,” says May.
This allows the university to afford a higher quality of product from its Farm to Fork partners, with local and sustainable products delivered fresh every week from local farmers, ranchers and artisans.
It’s part of the recently renovated International Village dorm, situated on the outskirts of campus. The Village holds 1,200 beds, plus classrooms and other amenities, and its dining hall needed to accommodate an additional 1,000 faculty and staff who use the facility.
The deli-to-go is located just outside the dining hall. Students use digital menus at a kiosk to order sandwiches to go—all without ever having to enter the dining hall. This service can be paid through the meal exchange from their dining plan, or with Husky Dollars on their Husky Card (guests and students can also pay with cash or credit/debit).
“Since we had the to-go station and dining hall in the same area, we had to be conscious of how the queueing worked,” explains Maureen Timmons, Northeastern’s director of dining services. “We have people constantly coming in and out of the 450-seat dining room. We wanted to make it feel very sleek and very modern.”
The deli continues to be an option within the dining hall, as well, located just inside the entrance; one staff member operates both stations.
Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia recently introduced the Hive 5 plan, which was created by dining partner Bon Appétit Management Company. The plan gives busy students a portable meal choice of a sandwich or entrée salad, three sides (whole fruit, salad, chips or snack item) and a drink.
The Hive 5 is available at campus dining facilities, as well as eateries such as Bobbie’s Diner, which is located on campus but independently run. Students can also stop by one of the college’s three cafés to order a made-from-scratch pizza to go.
And the college is planning to expand its to-go offerings.“One opportunity is to make a more robust overnight takeout program for the students,” says Emanuel May, Bon Appétit’s executive chef at the college. This includes increasing student awareness around to-go options, which are available during the same hours as the dining facilities, from 7 a.m. until 5 a.m.
In addition, May says, “We would like to bring the food forward at our newest resident building, Montgomery Hall, and the surrounding neighborhood, which houses 700 of our students. We will achieve this through enhancing the Bon Appétit pizza pickup program and offering a greater variety of to-go options for SCAD’s students and faculty.”
Loyola University Maryland moved into on-the-go dining to feed its “commuter” population—students who are housed in apartments. Many of these apartments include kitchenettes, and Loyola wanted to offer these students fresh, portable food.
Jen Wood, director of campus services, says this created a challenge for her staff.
“The best option for students on the go is premade food, but students do not want premade food; they perceive it as not being fresh,” Wood says. “They want to have food made to order. So, we had to find a way to feed students quickly, without rows of premade sandwiches sitting on our shelves.”
Loyola opened two convenience stores, on the east and west side of campus, where students can buy groceries. Iggy’s Market on the west side also offers premade meals that are chilled and displayed in grocery cases so students can grab them and heat them in their apartments. Students are also encouraged to take their meals to the Boulder Garden café to warm up.
These food options are not only dining solutions, but create a stronger campus community when students dine together rather than eating alone in their dorm rooms, says Jon Bentz, assistant director of dining for Parkhurst Dining at Loyola.
More than grub on-the-go
More universities have brought food trucks onto campus in the last few years. At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, renovations at the school’s student center (which housed the main campus dining area) prompted officials to reconsider how they fed their population, particularly during the lunch rush. Four local trucks visit the campus, Monday through Friday. The university also operates its own truck.
SCAD rotates menus among the two food trucks it added in September 2013. SCAD’s residence halls, classrooms, galleries and administrative buildings are woven throughout Savannah’s downtown and the rest of the city, says May. By catering specifically to distant buildings, the food trucks are keeping more faculty and student dining dollars “on campus.”
Food trucks don’t have to be run by the school itself or an outside entrepreneur. The University of Illinois at Chicago is part of the Chicago Food Partnership by Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services, which encourages students to help run food trucks on campus. The university participates in a profit-share with the food trucks, with 50 percent of profit going directly into a campus fund.
Heather Payne, marketing director of Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services at UIC Dining Services, says student groups can use the money from the organization’s treasury fund for supplies, travel, catering, special events and any other expenses. Groups can also choose to donate their revenue to a charitable cause. Recently, two days’ worth of food-truck proceeds went to benefit St. Jude Children’s Hospital.
Payne deemed the initial two runs with the Partnership as a success, with sales reaching almost $2,500. “The partnership provides a unique opportunity to connect and engage with the campus community. It provides a real-life business experience for the students who are running the carts,” she says.
App adaptation enhances service
As with many facets of campus life, administrators are using food service technology to both enhance and simplify processes to create a better student experience. UAB is slowly rolling out Tapingo as its main food-ordering app for both on- and off-campus vendors.
Student services administrators found that the app drives volume to its six Tapingo partners on campus, and the vendor also works with local food vendors off-campus that UAB had not partnered with previously. Now, students can visit six additional venues (for a total of 17 off-campus selections) and still eat on their meal plans. Tapingo also offered the university a mobile point-of-sale solution, technology the campus previously lacked.
“Students love it. They have grown up in a generation of mobile tech, and that’s how they want to process transactions,” says Shira Fogel, program director of UAB’s student services. “Tapingo’s app cuts down on lines and time in the ordering process. It allows students to see everything in writing. This way, there is much less chance of an ordering error.”
As far as lessons learned, Carolyn Farley, UAB’s director of academic and student services operations, recommends Tapingo be used with established food vendors. The app can be such a volume driver, newer kitchens may not be able to deal with the unexpected number of orders.
Other schools are taking advantage of the convenience mobile apps offer. SCAD uses Zingle so students can order pizzas ahead of time for pick up, and Northeastern plans to roll out Tapingo within the next six months.
But no matter what the approach, for many colleges and universities, the continued integration of technology and fresh food is the key to successfully feeding busy students on the go.
Stefanie Botelho is UB’s newsletter editor.