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OPINION: Meal periods just don’t make sense for meal swipes

This article expresses the views of its author(s), separate from those of this publication. Readers are encouraged to comment or submit a Letter to the Editor to share their opinions. To submit a Letter to the Editor, follow the instructions here.

I was aware of a harsh reality during my first year at UNF. 

With my meal plan, a late lunch or an early dinner would cost me dearly; I would have to sacrifice a timely dinner or my ability to utilize the several on-campus convenience stores throughout the day. 

Unfortunately, this is the reality for all first-year students living on campus and those with meal plans (excluding the unlimited plan). These students live and die by the meal periods, determining how many and when meal swipes can be used daily. 

This year, my third at UNF, will be the first year I don’t have a meal plan. There were several reasons behind my decision (I like to cook and finally have a full kitchen), but one of the main factors was having to adhere to the meal periods determined by Dining Services. Meal periods made for a very inconvenient on-campus dining experience because they limited how and when I could use the meal plan I paid for.

So far, I enjoy being able to eat what I want when I want. Although food has been more expensive as a result, foregoing a meal plan this semester has forced me to learn how to budget more wisely. Also, being able to make butter chicken for myself certainly doesn’t hurt. 

I will concede that there’s one good reason for their existence: our dining hall, the Osprey Cafe. Meal periods give the staff time to prepare each meal (going from breakfast to lunch, lunch to dinner, etc.). I support using meal periods here because the Cafe doesn’t serve the same food throughout the day. 

The Osprey Cafe, often called the dining hall, is situated on the southern part of UNF’s campus, close to the dorms. (Photo courtesy of the UNF dining website)

However, that leads me to the first reason I’m primarily anti-meal period: every dining option besides the Cafe serves the same daily food. None of these restaurants need time to prepare different courses. From open to close, Qdoba, Panda Express and even Chick-fil-A, which serves breakfast from opening to 10:30 am, all have the same daily schedule. The only thing meal periods do at these locations is force students to use their dining dollars or hard-earned cash instead of the meal swipes they’ve already paid for.

Also, what if the Cafe is closed? If students want to eat but have already used a swipe earlier, then they’re forced to use dining dollars that could be saved or cash that should definitely be saved.  

Meal periods are also demeaning to students. According to Dining Services, meal periods ensure “the meals are being used by the student that purchased the membership and ensures allocation throughout the week.”

The amount of times I used a meal swipe for a late breakfast only to be unable to buy lunch a few hours later is too many to count. I was forced to skip my lunch, have it later (which puts dinner in jeopardy) or use cash to buy it. No matter what I chose, the meal periods took away my autonomy. Honestly, it felt like I was being punished for using my meal plan.

For me, this is the crux of my issues with meal periods. Why does Dining Services feel the need to tell us how we should use the meal plans we pay for? I mean, they don’t tell us what degree to get, where to live, or what classes to take. Why should our meal swipes be any different?

I can already hear the rebuttal: “If you want more meal swipes, just buy a larger meal plan.” If we could use our swipes freely, I’d agree. However, that won’t work because the meal periods will still pigeon-hole meal swipes into the same four daily time periods. By doing this, you’re basically compounding the problem. Sure, there are more meal swipes, but you still can’t freely use them on a daily basis.  

As college students and young adults, we don’t need the university to tell us how to use our meal plans. If UNF can trust us with selecting our majors, picking our schedules and paying tuition (among many other things), they can give us agency over when and how we eat on campus. 

In theory, if a student wants to use their entire weekly allotment of meal swipes in one day or even one hour, they should be able to do so (a terrible use of a meal plan, but you get the point). What if a student runs out of swipes for the week? Well, that’s on them; we’re adults now, and planning our meals is a task we need to learn like any other.  

Beyond the Osprey Cafe, there’s no justification for using meal periods for allocating meal swipes. It’s simply an arbitrary restriction placed on us with little explanation. We, the university students, should not be punished for using the meal plans we pay for.

___

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About the Contributor
Ethan Leckie, Opinions Editor
A Pad Thai enthusiast, NASCAR follower, and Jon Bois fanboy, Ethan Leckie is a third-year journalism major at the University of North Florida, minoring in international studies. He first began his involvement with Spinnaker as a volunteer reporter in the fall of 2021 and currently holds the position of Opinions Editor. Ethan has always had a passion for writing and hopes to work for a newspaper one day. He enjoys watching YouTube, cooking, and visiting restaurants in his free time. If you see him on campus, ask him about his pieces- he loves to talk about them!

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