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Students struggle to find affordable, nutritious food between classes

Are marketplace meals to go fast enough?

Made-to-go sandwiches are stacked on a refrigerator shelf at the Viking Union. Western Washington University students often buy these pre-made meals at markets such as the Viking Union and the Atrium on campus. // Photo by Sophie Kashman

Students living on and off of Western Washington University’s campus rely on markets like the Viking Union, Zoe’s Bagels and the Atrium to purchase food during the school day. 

Long lines for food in the marketplaces, affordability and little time to eat in-between classes are causing students to buy snacks and less nutritious food in place of meals due to ease of access.

The in-person class schedule does not allow for much time to eat full meals. Most students must make a choice between being on time to class or eating nutritious food.

“Meals to go are available to all students on meal plans as well as for those visiting the dining halls intermittently at the posted door rate,” said WWU Dining Services Resident District Manager, Stephen Wadsworth. “We have a number of retail locations across campus where students can purchase meals.”

According to a 2022 study, A College Fast-Food Environment and Student Food and Beverage Choices, college students reported a lack of healthy, affordable options on campuses. 

The results showed that students were much more likely to opt for the faster, less healthy options compared to the healthier food offered in the cafeterias and dining halls.

Elise Marek, a second-year student who lives on campus, finds themself leaning towards less nutritious and filling foods due to ease of access and affordability.

“Healthy options are more expensive,” Marek said. “A lot of times, if they are even there at all, they are pretty picked over.”

Options like pre-made sandwiches, wraps and fruit are available on campus to grab and go. Marek expresses discomfort with the food descriptions. 

“I don’t necessarily have dietary restrictions, but for people who do, that would definitely be an issue,” Marek said. “The label will say what the food is, but not necessarily exactly what is in it. At least not in plain sight.”

Students gravitate to the markets on campus more than the dining halls due to their convenience. When compared to the dining halls, the marketplace prices are higher. 

Concerns about having enough dining dollars for the quarter were expressed by Niyah Reid, a second-year student living on campus at Western.

“I can find a snack replacement [at the markets], but I can’t find a meal replacement within reasonable money,” Reid said. “If I want to get a salad, it’s $5. If I want to get fruit, it’s $5. If I want to get a meal, I’m looking at like $15.”

In addition to affordability, Marek noted longer lines in each of the marketplaces on campus.

“The lines are insane,” Marek said. “When [Starbucks] is open, it is usually out of everything, and the line is insanely long to the point where I don’t have enough time to wait. I tend to just go for snacks instead, or I just end up not eating at all.”

A common problem students run into on busy school days is whether they get to class on time or eat a meal.

Another source of food between classes is the vending machines around campus. Ava Boorn, a first-year student living off-campus, regularly utilizes campus vending machines on her busier days.

“On my longer days, I only have 10 minutes in between classes and I need to get something quickly,” Boorn said. “It usually ends up being chips. It is all definitely on the junk food side. Understandably, I know that sells better, but for those who are looking for healthier options, you are stuck between a tiny bag of trail mix or nothing.”

Skipping meals may lead to not eating enough. This can cause many negative side effects, especially for busy college students.

“Food, particularly carbohydrates, gives us energy,” said Caity Robinson, a nutritionist at Prosper Nutrition and Wellness LLC. “If we aren’t eating enough during the day, we can typically expect to feel lethargic, lose [the] ability to concentrate and focus and feel more irritable or ‘hangry’ as the body stops producing mood-regulating hormones. Not eating enough during the day can also increase the likelihood of what I call ‘catch-up hunger’ at night: eating more than you typically would as your body seeks out the nutrition it missed during the day.”

Robinson calls attention to multiple standards for food in regards to maintaining a healthy lifestyle on campus.

“Healthy looks different for everyone,” Robinson said. “Ideally the food that is provided would taste good, it would be accessible both financially and logistically and there would be diverse cultural options.”

Students expressed multiple ideas for what Western could do to provide more quick and nutritious options for busy class schedules.

“I feel like making sure alternatives are open and possibly adding some fresh vending machines on campus might help people fulfill their food needs,” said Zoe Wiley, a third-year student living off campus. “This would be especially important for people living off campus that don't have meal swipes. Making options more affordable would also be great.”

Boorn provides insight on how businesses can select food for vending machines.

“I have worked in a vending machine warehouse,” Boorn said. “There are certain sections that lay out the nutrition facts, what is nutritious and what isn’t as nutritious. The different companies that are buying from the supplier get to pick. Western could either change what we get from the supplier or change suppliers.”

Wadsworth expressed that students who are struggling may also contact the registered dietician, Amy Blom. She can be contacted directly via email at

Sophie Kashman

Sophie Kashman (she/her) is a campus news reporter for The Front. She is currently a second-year student and majoring in Theatre Performance as well as a pre-major in Journalism with a focus in public relations. Some of her hobbies include, play/songwriting, singing, art, and hiking. 

You can reach her at or on Instagram @sophie_kashman.

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