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The Dartmouth
February 26, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

The Meal Plan, Unplanned

Two writers reflect on how their approaches to the dining plan reflect their personalities.

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As different as Dartmouth students can be, we share common characteristics — a dislike of mud season, a love of sunshine and, most importantly, a need to eat. As midterms loom over us and temperatures plunge, fueling our brains becomes even more important. In a small town like Hanover where there are limited food options, most students turn to Dartmouth Dining Services to satisfy their hunger.

Though all on-campus students frequent Dartmouth Dining in some capacity, students’ rationale behind choosing and managing their dining plans varies widely. Trace Hilbun ’24, who is on the 80+ Block meal plan — which comes with 80 meal swipes and $725 in dining dollars — chose it based on his typical eating locations and on-campus job.

“I eat at the Hop and Collis, which use more DBA, so I don’t use swipes as much,” Hilbun said. “I also work at Ramekin, and I get extra DBA from working there, so it made more sense to be on a DBA-heavy plan.” 

For those unfamiliar, a meal swipe can be used to swipe into Foco for all-you-can-eat dining, or exchanged for an “equivalent” value in dining dollars at other Dartmouth Dining establishments. Dining dollars, referred to as “DBA,” can be used at any Dartmouth Dining facility — but make paying for Foco extra pricey.

Holland Bald ’25, who is also on the 80+ Block, said that this plan was the best value per dollar for him: Since he does not eat at Foco very often, he doesn’t need as many swipes. 

Samantha Rago ’25 said she also picked her plan with maximizing value in mind, switching from the Unlimited plan — which gives one swipe each meal period (thus “unlimited” Foco) and $250 DBA — to the 80+ Block this term.

“I was bored one day over the summer and figured out how much money you get from each [meal plan],” Rago recalled. “I never went to Foco, so it seemed like a waste … I’m also a [computer science] major, but the cafes near the CS building only accept DBA, so I wanted more DBA.” 

Yet, as dining prices rise and meal plan values remain unchanged, dining plan management has grown more difficult. The three students interviewed expressed concerns about the rising costs of both dining plans and food. Even Hilbun, who often schedules lunchtime shifts at Ramekin to eat for free — in addition to receiving extra DBA — noted that the dining plan barely covers his entire term. 

“I still almost run out sometimes, which shows it’s a problem with how much money we get [compared to the cost of food],” Hilbun said. 

Although Bald tries to manage his plan by using one dinner swipe per day, he said that he still usually runs out of DBA by week seven. 

Bald’s dining plan management is a microcosm for his life at large –– just as he uses leftover swipes haphazardly by the end of the term, he said that he tends to “deal with things as they come” and doesn’t plan out his life very meticulously. 

Similarly, while writing this article, we — Ally and Gretchen — discovered that our approaches to our meal plans are wildly different, reflecting our differing personalities. 

I — Gretchen — am both frugal and extremely Type A, two characteristics evident in my dining plan management. In the fall, I was on the Unlimited plan. Similarly to Rago, I hated feeling like I was wasting money by not using all of my swipes. I calculated the swipe to DBA ratio of each dining plan over winterim, eventually landing on the 115+ Block as a happy medium for both swipes and DBA. At the beginning of this term, I planned out when I would use my swipes throughout the week and set myself reminders on my Google Calendar. 

This control on a micro-level manifests itself in my deep and abiding love for planning my life. My calendar, often described by my friends as horrifying, is extremely detailed and color-coded, complete with lists of goals for each day and when I’ll accomplish them. Was setting reminders to use my lunch swipe on my calendar overkill? Absolutely. 

But having smaller aspects of my life under control, like my dining plan, makes me feel on top of things even during overwhelming weeks, when I struggle to finish assignments and don’t look up from my computer screen for twelve hours. Though I haven’t yet made it through a term on the 115, I’ve made it through several terms at Dartmouth using a similar level of planning. I’m fairly confident that when other students find themselves dipping into the DBA negatives at the end of the term, I’ll be able to make it out of the 115 Block alive.

On the other hand, I — Ally — will likely be in dire need of a “DBA Daddy” in a few weeks, despite also being on the 115+ Block. (Seriously, Gretchen gasped when she saw my GET App.) As I tend to be unstructured in my spending habits, it is a game time decision whether I use a swipe, DBA or the enticing option of Snackpass. 

While one morning’s breakfast may be a granola bar from my dorm, the next day might include three breakfasts. Yet, despite this nonchalance and disorder, I also habitually check the Foco menu and am always painstakingly aware of my DBA total. I am a creature of habit: I order two eggs over easy whenever I go to Collis, and I cannot step foot into Novack without buying fruit snacks. 

Thus, in my life outside of Dartmouth Dining, I am unsurprisingly an organized mess. I may not know how I will complete my computer science lab, or how my clothes got scattered throughout my dorm, but I religiously use my agenda and can pinpoint exactly where my black jeans are located on my floor. My organized messiness seeps its way into everything I do –– from not knowing my major yet creating a spreadsheet of every distributive I need, to going to bed at rogue hours but having an extensive nightly skin care routine. In all of its disorganized yet predictable glory, my DBA spending habits are truly indicative of my life.

Just as personality tests promise to reveal our true selves, so too do our strategies for managing Dartmouth’s meal plans. Thinking about using Ally’s chaotic spending strategy gives me — Gretchen — mild heart palpitations, while the thought of planning meals to the extreme makes me — Ally — incredibly stressed. 

But ultimately, college is a time for self discovery. Even if Ally won’t know what she is having for breakfast tomorrow until her alarm goes off, while Gretchen has already set out her bowl for oatmeal, we both learned a little bit more about ourselves from analyzing our dining. So next time you answer the question “swipe or DBA?” consider what your answer might say about you.