Extra meal swipes: Where do they go?

Gerson Flores

It’s a fairly common sight in the dining halls on campus — plates of half-eaten food traveling down a carousel back into the kitchen so the leftovers can be discarded or composted, a fate many meals face. But have you ever wondered what happens to all your leftover meal swipes? 

One of the many factors college students take into account when deciding which university or college to attend is the cost of services provided at said institutions.

Dishes in The Foundry dining hall on Feb. 16. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

At Colorado State University, Housing & Dining Services tries its best to ensure it meets students’ needs while being as accommodating as possible. 

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“We work really hard to balance affordability and value of what we offer, trying to create a program that is valuable and satisfies our students,” said Lucas Miller, senior associate director of operations for Residential Dining. 

Students at CSU have various options when it comes to their meal plans in order to make room for flexibility. Although first-year students are required to have a meal plan, they have the option of choosing between three plans. CSU offers 10, 14 or 21 meals per week that students can take advantage of during certain periods of time throughout the day.

Students who are off campus can also purchase meal plans that include 32, 48 and 80 meal swipes per semester.

But what happens when students don’t use all their meal swipes? Where does that money go? 

“We are self-operated,” said Liz Poore, director of Dining Services at CSU. “We don’t receive any funds from the state or federal government.”

The dining halls also don’t profit off of students using their meal swipes.

A meal in The Foundry dining hall on Feb. 16. (Ryan Schmidt | The Collegian)

“It’s not a private, for-profit business,” Miller said.

Poore said rates for the meal swipes are determined by how much food costs, past rate patterns, inflation and how the current economy is doing. These factors are pretty consistent and have always been able to be tracked. 

Something that can be tracked is the way students use their meal swipes and the times when they use them. 

We try to use as many compostable products as we can. We try to work with as many departments as we can.” -Liz Poore, director, CSU Dining Services

Through a computer system that tracks when and where a student goes to eat, the dining halls can make sure they have enough food to provide for the influx of students and make sure as little as possible goes to waste. 

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“We know in general how students use their meal swipes,” Miller said. “We know that students don’t use all their meals, and that makes us determine rate.”

Although there are several options for meal plans, Residential Dining counts on the fact that students will not use all of their meal swipes, Poore said. If students were to use all their meal swipes, the price of meal plans would inevitably go up. 

There has to be extra money to ensure the reserve for Residential Dining has enough for new projects, equipment that needs to be replaced and payment for employees, Miller and Poore said. 

Projects include constructing Meridian Village within the next couple of years, renovating current dining halls, such as Braiden, and making sure every dining hall is running smoothly with equipment. Some equipment can cost up to $150,000, Poore said. 

A food drop-off area outside of Rams Horn Express, which encourages students to use extra swipes at Express and donate the food to Rams Against Hunger. (Lucy Morantz | The Collegian)

With over 1,000 students working at the dining halls and 60+ faculty, Residential Dining also has to account for its employees, Poore said. The extra income that may come throughout the year does not go to bonuses or raises. Instead, it goes to the reserve and, in time, back to CSU.

“We try to be good stewards with the money we have been entrusted with,” Poore said. “It’s our job to help the students be successful, and in doing that, we provide food.”

Residential Dining also tries to be as sustainable as it can be, Poore said. What’s more, most of the food served at the dining halls cannot be used again or given out, but the extra wholesale food that’s available can be donated and is sent to the Food Bank for Larimer County.

“We try to use as many compostable products as we can,” Poore said. “We try to work with as many departments as we can.”

Gerson Flores Rojas can be reached at news@collegian.com or on Twitter @GersonFloresRo1.