The Daily Gamecock

Column: Students often sacrifice healthy meals on campus due to costs. But this shouldn't be the case

College students should have access to more balanced, healthy meals on campus. A location where they are able to receive protein, vegetables and fruit altogether is needed to ensure students maintain their nutritional balance. 

But here at USC, this feat is difficult to accomplish and afford. These types of meals should be both affordable and available to all students.

USC has various meal plan options that students can choose from, including a mandatory one for first-year residents, which starts at $2,404 per semester. This plan is the cheapest all-access meal plan, and it includes meal swipes which max out at seven per week. There are three other meal plans that also include meal swipes, one that provides 10 per week, one that is set at 100 total and and one that is set at 50 total. 

The Education Data Initiative found in August that “a campus meal plan averages $450 a month.” With about four to five months in a semester, the $2,404 meal plan becomes about $480 to $601 per month. These inflated meal plan prices aren’t just present at USC. They have become a trend across many college campuses.

An article from U.S. News reported in 2022 that the average college meal plan ranges between $3,000 and $5,500 for an academic school year. The all-access meal plan here is $4,808 per academic year, resting on the higher end of that spectrum.

The Daily Gamecock surveyed students to get their opinions on food affordability on campus. About 85% of over 40 students said they felt that USC's dining halls are expensive. 

Some of the more popular on-campus food options at USC are located in the six dining halls throughout campus. Four of these halls are within residence halls, with the other two being Russell House and Fresh Greens. Every hall provides unlimited access to the food served after paying for entrance. Each hall costs $11 with tax to enter for breakfast, and $15.40 for lunch and dinner. 

Meal swipes are valued at $10.50 for lunch and dinner time, which is about the average cost of a meal from restaurants and retail locations. The price difference between that and the dining hall entrance fee of $15.40 is unreasonable. 

Outside of these halls, only Village Juice & Kitchen and Colloquium Café are stand-alone restaurants on campus centered around healthy eating. 

The majority of fresh food on campus is bound to dining halls, such as fresh fruit stands and salad bars. 

“In general, dining halls offer the most flexibility in terms of recipe design, implementation,” said Cody Ellis, a registered dietitian for Carolina Food Co. 

Carolina Food Co. has more control over what is served and presented in dining halls than it does in retail locations. This allows for the inclusion of more healthy foods and the ability to provide whole, fresh foods, Ellis said.

While that jurisdiction is not unreasonable, it means students will have to first pay $15.40 to get a complete, healthy meal. 

Carolina Food Co. does provide whole fruit in dining halls and makes sure it is available to purchase à la carte in stores such as Gamecock General.

But the reality is that those stores are not as consistently stocked as dining halls are. 

While the entrance fee does appear to be reasonable, considering there is no limit to the amount of food a student can take, the price can be hefty for those who wish to just have a quick bite and are paying out of pocket.

If that is the case, students tend to turn to the various restaurants located in Russell House or around campus for “on-the-go” meals in smaller portions.

These restaurants range from popular chains, including Chick-fil-A and Panera, to lesser-known ones such as The Halal Shack. Students may tend to lean toward these restaurants more than dining halls due to their smaller portions and cheaper prices, but they do not allow for a well-rounded meal. 

Several of these restaurants do have vegetables on their menu, such as Colloquium Cafe's spinach and tomato basil wrap option, but where they are lacking is in the availability of fruits and salads. 

Many of the restaurants have limited choices when it comes to fruit, but Chick-fil-A does have two yogurt parfaits topped with fruit and a fruit cup available to purchase. 

After freshman year, students can choose the same meal plan or explore other options. Students can switch to paying for meal plan dollars alone or fully out of pocket. Or, they could choose another meal plan that provides a set amount of swipes and meal plan dollars.

Another option is a declining balance meal plan, ranging from $500 to $1,625, which only includes meal plan dollars. Meal plan dollars serve as cash without the sales tax on on-campus food items.

Students often opt to use meal plan dollars to pay for campus convenience store items at one of the multiple Gamecock General locations, as well as Market 101, located inside the McBryde dorm building.

But these items tend to be sold at inflated prices compared to off-campus convenience stores. Mandarin oranges are sold at CVS for $1.29 and for $2.69 at Gamecock General. While this increase is not outrageous, it is an increase nonetheless. 

This inflation trend is yet again common in many different institutions across the country.

In a 2019 article for Forbes, Richard Vedder, a professor from Ohio University, recruited two of his students to compare the prices of common goods — such as toothpaste, Ramen noodles and gum at an on-campus convenience store and a local Walmart. They found that on average, the price of those select goods was 40% to 60% higher at the university store than at Walmart. 

Campus food in dining halls and convenience stores both tend to be more expensive than dining off campus. The same article from Forbes reported that a potential reason behind this increase is due to colleges having monopolistic power, seeing as how universities often compel students to dine on campus and utilize their facilities. 

Nevertheless, this trend needs to change so college students can eat healthy on campus without breaking the bank.

A 2018 article from CNBC found that 40% of college students said they are unable to afford balanced meals. This means that students are forced to compromise healthy eating habits for affordable meals that may not be as nutritional.

There are numerous benefits of having a healthy, balanced diet.

The World Health Organization states that a healthy diet "protects you against many chronic noncommunicable diseases, such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer." Eating well can also improve one's emotional state, as stated in an article from the Washington Post, which found an association between high consumption of fruits and feelings of relaxation.

Students should not have to choose between eating healthy and saving money.

About 46% of USC students surveyed reported that they do not have affordable, healthy food options outside of dining halls.

About 80% of respondents also said they would like to see more affordable food options on campus outside of dining halls, referring to the items sold at retail locations and convenience stores across campus. 

The issue lies with USC's inability to provide enough opportunities for students to receive a well-rounded meal that includes both fruit and vegetables in one sitting. While retail locations may have vegetable options, they lack fruit. And fruit is infrequently restocked outside of dining halls. 

Ellis said Carolina Food Co. does not receive complaints about a lack of affordable food options on campus very often. 

There is a clear disconnect between students’ thoughts on the prices of food on campus and how Carolina Food Co. perceives the situation.


Most of the food options available outside of dining halls simply aren't affordable or adequate for a balanced diet.

Additionally, the healthier options are largely overshadowed by sodas, microwaveable dishes and junk food. The numerous options for these food items outnumber the few options for fruits and salads. 

The bottom line is that students should be able to have food autonomy without compromising on cost. There should be more affordable on-campus food options in dining halls and campus convenience stores.

The university needs to do better in providing these options to students. 


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