With the new school year comes a new policy at Laurentian University — students in several of the university's residences are being required to purchase meal plans worth thousands of dollars.
The change has come about as part of the university's modernization of food services after extensive consultations with students, staff and faculty.
Over the past two years, Laurentian has added a Starbucks, Subway and a bistro in its East Residence. A new Topper's Pizza outlet will open next month.
Starting this past April, the university also began a $2-million renovation to its Great Hall cafeteria, which has been in use for more than 50 years.
The facility, which was officially opened Aug. 27, now features a “Marché” style dining venue under the name Fresh Food Company. It's run by Aramark, Laurentian's food service provider since 2001.
By paying one set price — roughly $8 for breakfast, $10 for lunch and $13 for dinner — students have access to all they care to eat from a variety of food stations.
It was necessary to go with the mandatory meal plan to provide some guarantees to Aramark that enough students would use the facility, said Ben Demianiuk, Laurentian's director of housing and food services.
“Under the old model, you wouldn't know if there was 10 people coming through the hall or 1,000 people, so planning menus or carrying menus was really difficult,” he said.
“By having a constant stream like we do now, we can ensure a higher quality of fresh options that are made to order.”
Laurentian is actually one of the last universities in Ontario to introduce mandatory meal plans for students in residence, Demianiuk said.
Among the students who descended upon the Great Hall Aug. 27 to check out the renovations — and take advantage of the free food samples on offer — was third-year biomedical biology student Falak Aziz.
Because she lives in Laurentian's University College residence, Aziz is required to purchase a meal plan this year.
She chose the least expensive option, which costs $1,700 and allows her to eat about four meals a week at the cafeteria. The most expensive option would have cost about $4,400.
Although Aziz also had a meal plan in her first few years at the university, she only got the $500 option.
But she said she doesn't mind being forced to purchase a more expensive meal plan, especially given the changes to the Great Hall.
“I think it's definitely worth it,” Aziz said.
As someone who eats Halal foods as part of her religious practices, she said the new food service options make the cafeteria much more accessible for her.
Third-year Laurentian ecology student Alexandra Binns, who lives in the university's East Residence, also said she doesn't mind being required to purchase a meal plan.
She said she used to feel compelled to purchase groceries to eat healthy foods, and getting to the grocery store was a hassle.
But Binns is now satisfied with the nutrition of the cafeteria food. “Now I have this really cool option where I don't have to get groceries,” she said.
The Fresh Food Company aims to cater to students' needs, and is able to accommodate religious or dietary restrictions, said Jean-Louis Guyot, who heads up food services for Aramark at Laurentian.
The food service provider also uses food from local producers whenever possible, he said. As well, by using real plates, cups and cutlery — no more disposables allowed — it's drastically cutting down on its waste.
The Fresh Food Company's 40 staff will provide different dishes at each meal to keep students interested in their offerings, Guyot said.
“It allows us to have a lot of fun and for our staff to be creative as well, right?” he said. “We'll give our staff a recipe and say 'Can you construct this
with your own twist on it?'”
Did you know?
Students at Laurentian University's East Residence, West Residence, University College and Single Student Residence are now compelled to purchase meal plans. Options range in price from about $1,700 to $4,400.