The launch of MIT’s new meal program for dining hall residences next fall will bring an increased array of dining choices for those with special food needs. In addition, the introduction of “all-you-care-to-eat” service will allow students to make choices based on preference and nutritional needs, with fewer concerns about per-item cost.
Currently, halal, kosher, vegan and vegetarian fare are offered with limited options throughout the dining halls. The new dining program will offer more of these options every day to all students under the meal plan across the system.
“We don’t want any student to feel like a second-class citizen in his or her dorm because of dietary restrictions or preferences,” said Henry Humphreys, the senior associate dean for student life. “While we have always offered at least a few halal, vegetarian and vegan options, we intend to work with the selected vendor to raise our commitment in each of the five dining halls.”
Another significant change will be the introduction to campus dining of a true kosher program. The state-of-the-art Howard Dining Hall in Maseeh Hall, scheduled to open next September, include a kosher-standard kitchen and dedicated kosher serving station. (Read more about the Hillel community's response to the plan.)
“Right now, the kosher kitchen we have is minimal,” said Rich Berlin, the director of Dining Services at MIT. “It cannot support the commitment one needs in order to have an effective kosher program.”
The main benefit to all-you-care-to-eat service is that all students will have expanded food options. Under the existing à la carte system, diners are charged separately for each item on their tray. In the new program, students will swipe their ID card at the entry to the dining hall, then be able to select any items from all the different stations — from the salad bar to the stir fry — to create the meal of their choosing. “In programs we’ve looked at, specialty offerings like kosher and vegetarian food end up being quite popular with all diners, not just those with religious or dietary preferences,” Berlin said.
Additionally, because students will be charged per visit rather than per individual food item, they will be able to try new dishes without worrying about extra cost if they do not like them. “With à la carte service, diners commonly focus on the protein — or the center of the plate, as I call it — in an attempt to increase the perceived value,” Berlin said. “Because everything is inclusive in an all-you-care-to-eat environment, diners tend to choose a greater variety of foods, especially vegetables and sides, and also feel more comfortable trying new items or dishes.”
All-you-care-to-eat service will also satisfy a longstanding desire for many of MIT’s student-athletes. Last spring, after meetings to discuss changes to the dining program, the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) sent a statement to the House Dining Advisory Group, which was charged with recommending the new dining program, asking for all-you-care-to-eat on behalf of athletes.
“An all-you-care-to-eat option would help athletes maintain the necessary caloric intake they require to function at a manageable cost — one ideally comparable to the current à la carte pricing,” the letter stated. “This would provide student athletes with a promising opportunity — saving them from unhealthy and/or costly alternatives as well as freeing up time (ultimately, for much needed sleep) that is currently devoted to buying/preparing food.”
The increased array of options is made possible by the broader participation of all students in the new meal plans. “From a budgetary perspective, we believe we have managed to balance a reasonable cost to students with a critical mass of participation that allows us to invest in an approach that will really improve the quality of life for many on campus,” Berlin said.