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The Daily Tar Heel

University provides variety of food options in dining halls, on-campus restaurants

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UNC students stand in line to dine in the only onsite Chick-Fil-A located at the bottom of Lenoir.

When choosing a dining plan, it's vital for incoming students to consider both the numerous options available to them and the caveats, like Chapel Hill's accessibility to affordable and manageable groceries.

Nikita Muthakana, a rising sophomore and orientation leader at UNC, wrote in a message to The Daily Tar Heel that she was initially struck by the wide array of options available at on-campus dining halls.

"I simply was not sure which food to try first," Muthakana said.

While Lenoir and Chase dining halls serve similar food, a variety in atmosphere and specific options create distinct experiences for students like Bobby Peters, a rising senior and the chair of the UNC Student Dining Board. 

"Only Lenoir has the famous burrito bowl bar, and only Chase has a made-to-order pasta bar," Peters said via email.

Muthakana said that the inviting atmosphere of the dining halls on campus made them a regular spot for her to gather with friends. She also said that the staff members at UNC dining locations were incredibly friendly and engaging. 

On weekdays, the bottom floor of Lenoir, referred to as BOLO by students, has local and chain restaurant vendors open from 10:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. All of these options have main locations in Chapel Hill and include Alpaca Peruvian Charcoal ChickenBandidos, Bento SushiCholaNad,  Chick-fil-ALa Farm BakeryMediterranean Deli and The Scoop. Alpaca Peruvian Charcoal Chicken and Chick-fil-A are both open for dinner and close at 8 p.m.

"[The] Bottom of Lenoir has incredible local options including my personal favorite, Med Deli,” Peters wrote. “Don't miss the spicy falafel and sundried tomato pasta." 

Manzi Venter, a rising sophomore, wrote in a message to The Daily Tar Heel that she loved BOLO and its variety of options — especially CholaNad, with a main location on Franklin Street for over 12 years. 

Within Chase is coffee shop Port City Java, a classic study spot for many students. It is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and weekends from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Additionally, the Rams Market is located underneath Chase, where students can grab groceries as well as sandwiches from Subway, which is open from 11 a.m. to midnight on Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

At the Student Union, Alpine Bagel is open from 7:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Sunday. Bojangles, located in the basement of the Student Union, is open from 7:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Saturday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. on Sunday. 

Students can utilize plus swipes and flex dollars at these locations, which are meal swipes specifically allotted for restaurants across campus and cash loaded onto plans.

There are three main meal plans available to students: Unlimited, Block Plans and Off-Campus Plans. Unlimited, the most popular plan according to CDS, allows for an infinite number of swipes into the dining hall with 35 plus swipes to the restaurants above and 10 guest meals. 

Block Plans allow for students to choose between 100, 120, 160 and 200 meal swipes, 25-35 of which can be used as plus swipes. The Off-Campus Plans are similar to the Block, where students can choose from 35 or 50 swipes, or purchase $300 or $500 of flex money to use at dining locations around campus.

When considering which plan to choose, Muthakana and Peters said to plan out daily swipes and estimate which plan best satisfies a student’s needs. Venter said that when choosing a plan, students should factor in how often they may go out to eat or make their own meals.

While there are restaurants and dining halls across UNC’s campus, many locations close or operate with limited hours on weekends. Additionally, Chapel Hill has issues with grocery accessibility, classifying the town as a food desert and contributing to the larger issue of food insecurity among students, a trend seen in college students across the country.

Maureen Berner, a professor at UNC’s School of Government, has been working to analyze this trend for over 20 years. Berner and her research partner, Jessica Soldavini, conducted a study to analyze food security levels of students on campus in 2023. 

In her pre-Covid-19 study, Berner found that international students and students of color reported higher percentages of food insecurity. First-years were the most food-secure out of all the classes. 

Compared to Berner’s 2017 study at UNC, both the percentage of students who were highly food-secure and had very low security increased. Berner said that it was important to keep in mind that the study was observing different UNC graduation classes. 

"In our 2017 study, we found that even those at the marginal level [were] showing signs of negative impact on their food situation, well-being and performance in school," Berner said.

Berner said that while progress has been made, she believes there are significant advances necessary in order to alleviate overall food insecurity issues. Berner recommends that incoming freshmen plan ahead to ensure food security.

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As chair of the SDB, Peters has worked to ensure that student voices are heard regarding dining options by providing feedback to Carolina Dining Services. 

"We are your voice, so we want to hear from you," Peters said.

@dailytarheeluniversity@dailytarheel.com