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Coming into my freshman year of college, I was warned by many people to be wary of the ‘freshman 15.’ I was curious how this could occur when I walked to and from class every day and hit my goal of 10,000 steps regularly. However, when I was introduced to the use of dining dollars in the Union, Selleck and other on-campus dining, the amount of fast food I was and I am consuming became overwhelming. 

As much as I adore Chick-fil-A and Steak ‘n Shake, I have to say they are not the healthiest options and do not come close to the home-cooked meals I had before entering college. I recently realized that I am not the only student who feels that way, and many other students have similar concerns about the dining experience. 

However, I am grateful that we have more options because upperclassmen have told me that it wasn’t always like this in previous years. Although the changes made in the dining hall experience are valuable, there is still room for improvement. The university allowing students to use dining dollars in local restaurants would benefit both students and the community by providing healthier options, building Lincoln’s economy and aiding in time and staffing issues. 

Eating in local restaurants can provide a healthier alternative to what is currently available with dining dollars. Fruit and vegetables grown locally can be full of more flavor because they are not brought from miles away and picked before they are ripe. Food from local areas shorten the time between harvest and when they appear on your plate. 

Local restaurants also open the door to a wider variety of options for students to enjoy. Depending on what a student is in the mood for, whether it be seafood, a super spicy meal or vegetarian friendly, they have a broader choice to pick from. Downtown Lincoln’s diversity of restaurants range from American to Asian to Greek and Mediterranean to Italian, Indian, Mexican, African and Caribbean cuisine. Allowing students to diversify their palates with new experiences can enable them to grow as individuals and build the economy at the same time. 

After the economy was shut down once COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, many local restaurants saw hardships when consumers stopped coming to their establishments. Restaurants were not allowed the option for in-store dining, which cut off their major source of revenue. However, expenses such as heating and electricity still needed to be paid. 

An April 2020 report showed 87% of Nebraska businesses were affected negatively by the pandemic. Among them, restaurants were in one of the hardest hit sectors. I noticed that when restrictions started to loosen, it seemed like people weren't going to eat out more than before to make up for lost revenue. 

Allowing students to use dining dollars for meals can assist with the lost revenue these local restaurants endured during the misfortune of the pandemic lockdown. In general, buying locally has many beneficial factors. For example, the Hub Cafe uses locally produced eggs. The university would also be keeping money local by investing it back into the community. The university is already a huge contributor to the economy, but imagine how much more this would add to the return on economic activity. 

The mobile ordering app has been a favorable addition to me and my friends’ dining experience, allowing students to order food in the present and future. However, due to the large number of students using the app, there has been an issue regarding wait times exceeding 30 minutes to even 120-plus minutes. 

This can lead to an abundance of pre-orders and long waits for students who have a busy schedule. Adding local restaurants to the ordering system will spread out the demand, shortening wait times. At times, students overwhelm the printing systems for pre-orders, dining places have to close and options for students lessen. 

On the other hand, the printing and wait time issue could also occur for local restaurants. Still, with different systems already placed in restaurants, they’re equipped with the demands of online ordering. Furthermore, this can be helpful when staffing issues occur in on-campus dining halls and places are struggling with orders or closed. 

Overall, the university allowing students to use dining dollars off campus can be useful to the students and the community. Although the university would ensure there be restrictions on what we can buy with our dining dollars, the world, or at least downtown Lincoln, would be our oyster. 

Alexis Goeman is a freshman journalism major. Reach her at alexisgoeman@dailynebraksan.com