Keeping the students of Kansas University fed is like supplying an army, or a small city.
Consider that KU's Department of Student Housing:
Â has 3,600 "meal contracts" with students, faculty and staff.
Â serves 1.8 million meals per academic year.
Â serves 1,300 gallons of milk and 2,400 gallons of soft drinks a week.
Â serves 480 pounds of cereal and 840 pounds of salad mix a week.
Â all of which requires staff of the dining halls to wash $16.2 million pieces of eating utensils, dishes, glassware and other dining items Â not including the pots and pans used in food preparation.
Of course, when you're feeding that many people, you get a few finicky customers. That's why the dining services arm of the Department of Student Housing annually fine tunes and expands the meal offerings.
"There's some students who praise our services, because they know they can't get the variety anywhere else for the price they pay," said Nona Golledge, assistant director of dining services at KU. "There's other students who, even though we have eight to 10 entrees at every meal, still want more variety."
A recent trend is more vegetarian offerings.
"We find vegetarians are increasing Â and they're asking for more options, as well," Golledge said.
It's a far cry from when Golledge arrived at KU 14 years ago. Then each hall offered two main entrees and one vegetarian meal option per meal.
"It's changed a lot over the years," she said. "And we continue to change as students' needs change."
There are three dining centers in the system: the GSP/Corbin and Oliver Hall facilities; and Ekdahl Dining Commons, known informally as "Mrs. E's."
Mrs. E's features different levels of seating for everyone from twosomes to big groups, an expansive view looking out across KU and private banquet rooms for meetings and special events.
Mrs. E's seats about 700 people, while GSP/Corbin and Oliver each seat about 200.
There's also a facility called E's Express, which is a food-to-go option in Hashinger Hall. And there will soon be a "Munch E's," a convenience-store type of operation that will allow students to purchase snacks Â as well as laundry and school supplies.
"Students have busy lifestyles," Golledge said. "The convenience for the student is they won't have to leave their housing to get supplies."
All the students living in the university's residence halls must choose a meal plan. Meal plans are an option, though, for residents of Jayhawker Towers, Stouffer Place and Sunflower Apartments, which offer kitchenettes or full kitchens.
Students in McCollum, Ellsworth, Hashinger, Oliver or GSP/Corbin halls may choose from three meal packages: any 19, 15 or 10 meals per week.
Residents of Templin and Lewis halls, Jayhawker Towers, Stouffer Place or Sunflower Apartments may select a fourth option, a five-meal package.
The costs of the different meal plans for the 2002-2003 school year are: $2,236 for the 19-meal-per-week plan; $2,076 for 15 meals per week; $1,916 for 10 meals per week; and $1,116 for five meals per week.
Golledge said KU officials were considering a less-strict meal plan that would allow students to purchase their meals in semester blocks, instead of weekly plans, to allow the students to fit their meals around their schedules.
"Their time is really hectic," she said. "They want to eat when they want to eat, and they don't want us to dictate that."
The dining halls also this year will offer a "Fresh 'n' Hearty" program to help students identify healthier meals Â those with less than 600 calories or 24 grams of fat.
Of course, students will also have "fun" food options.
"We'll still have the usual hamburgers, hot dogs, french fries and pizza for those who want that," Golledge said.
In recent years, the halls have also been remodeled to make them feel more like home Â less stainless steel, more formica.
"We've tried to take away the institutional feel," Golledge said. "This is the students' home dining room for the nine months they're living here."