Meal block times not suited to students

Meal block times not suited to students (credit: Kyung Min Lee/) Meal block times not suited to students (credit: Kyung Min Lee/)
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If you’re an enrolled student at Carnegie Mellon, there’s a good chance that you’ve also enrolled in the school’s dining plan. While the plan itself is straightforward, the block schedule can be confusing to newcomers and veterans alike. Only one block can be used per “meal,” and the start and end times of those meals can be fairly inconvenient for students. Dining Services should change its block “meal” times or else do away with scheduled blocks altogether.

Blocks run on a straightforward schedule: breakfast from 3:30 to 10:30 a.m., lunch from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., dinner from 4 to 8 p.m., and late night from 8 p.m. to 3:30 a.m. On closer inspection, though, these times appear puzzling. It makes little sense for breakfast blocks to end at 10:30 a.m., especially on weekends, when students might be getting out of bed half an hour before. I can’t say that I know any students who have dinner at 4 p.m., either. It seems silly, as well, to have a late night block at 8 p.m., when students getting out of a late recitation or lab might have their first chance at an evening meal, rather than at 9 p.m. or later.

The current meal block schedule seems much more styled to a significantly-older person’s timetable, and fails to take into account the fact that college students tend to eat, study, and stay up later than other demographics. The 8 p.m. deadline on the dinner block is a nuisance and finding breakfast on the weekend can be difficult when only two locations — Skibo Café and Carnegie Mellon Café — are even open during that time. The lack of flexibility is the system’s biggest concern: If a student has breakfast at 10:45 a.m. and wants to have lunch at 3 p.m., they’re pretty much out of luck.

To fix this system, Dining Services could simply shift the block schedule to a later time to better match student activity. Polls distributed to the student body through email and social media, for example, certainly wouldn’t go amiss. While this solution probably wouldn’t work for everyone, it would fix a majority of issues while still encouraging healthy eating times. It’s also clear that if the system as a whole remains, on-campus eateries need to moderate their opening and closing times to better meet student needs.

There are also more drastic solutions. Dining Services could introduce an overlapping block system in which breakfast blocks run from 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., but lunch runs from 11 a.m. to, say, 5:30 p.m. (with dinner beginning at 5 p.m.). Alternatively, it could do away with block scheduling entirely.

While this solution would simplify things and minimize inconvenience, it might do more harm than good to Carnegie Mellon’s goal of campuswide healthy eating habits. A compromise, perhaps, might be to allow the use of two blocks — rather than just one — in any given meal period.

For its simplicity and ease of implementation, the solution to shift the schedule should be Dining Service’s first action. While neither a complete nor permanent fix, it would be a good way to remove many students’ pressing concerns. Future changes would likely rely on the ability of student government to interface with Dining Services. It seems promising that now, after the recent student body elections, we will see some interest in changing this antiquated system.