The Eating Habits of Generation Z

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Eating is something that has changed over time due to a number of reasons. With changes made to food quality and ordering methods, Fresh Ideas is working to adapt how they cater to the changing needs of Maryville students. The needs of Generation Z differ tremendously when compared to other generations.

There are several stations in Gander that offer a variety of different food options at different price amounts and length of time waiting for food.

“I usually eat pizza because it’s relatively inexpensive,” first-year student Sam Risenhoover said.

“I don’t usually have time to pick up something from the Grill or Deli because they are busy especially during lunch. I usually go for the Salad Bar,” second-year student Andrea Cadena said.

“I get the grill a lot. Occasionally I’ll look at the Culinary Expo or the Chef’s Table. But usually chicken or spicy chicken,” second-year student Landon Ferrill said.

One of the most obvious differences with the age gap is the desire for convenience. We have grown up with ordering food through a drive-thru and more recently, ordering from your phone. Generations before ours did not have this luxury; food was ordered through waiting in lines, talking to employees and food being made to order. On Maryville’s campus, ordering from your phone without having to be in that location became an option last year. This year, kiosks have been installed in Gander, which have made ordering easier. For more information on the kiosks in Gander, click here.

There are mixed reviews from Generation Z on this, most of which include liking the concept but pointing out limitations.

“I feel like there were more opportunities to customize your order, such as adding bacon to the grill sandwiches [with older systems of ordering],” Ferrill said.

Ferrill noted this particularly on the Deli station. In the past, an item was easily customized through paper slips, but the new kiosk system isn’t as easy.

The busy schedule of a typical college students makes it difficult to find time for proper meals. The ability to grab food on the run is an increasing desire. “I usually eat something light for lunch. I’m going to be moving around and thinking hard all day, so I need something I can eat on the go,” Cadena said.

Another major difference in Generation Z is the ever-changing diets and concern as to how their food is prepared.

Diets that restrict food options such as vegetarian, pescetarian, gluten-free or lactose intolerant are becoming more common. Gander and Fresh Ideas seem to be ahead of the curve on this issue, having labels and cutting trays colored to denote what items can touch it in order to not cross-contaminate these food items.

“I try to stay away from food items prepared near or with items used for meat. It could mess up my stomach and make me really sick for a few days depending on how much animal product was near,” Cadena said, who is pescetarian.

“If I could change one thing [about preparation of food at Maryville], it would be that the celery in Gander only comes with peanut butter. I’m allergic to peanut butter, so I can never get it,” Parrish said.

For students who live on campus, it may be difficult to prepare food for themselves beyond the easy, simple meals. This leads to students having to become more comfortable with others making their food and how they are prepared.

“I don’t prepare my own food very often since I live in the dorms. I always eat in the dining hall on campus, or somewhere off campus. It’s a little difficult, but there’s not really a location where I can cook my own food,” Parrish said.

Price is also an area of discussion for students when it comes to ordering food.

“I think we value price over convenience. There is a price to convenience and I think most would go for the one that is cheaper,” Risenhoover said.

“I would say quality is an important aspect, but the taste is more important. I would say convenience would be next in importance, and I would be willing to pay a little more for these other aspects to be improved,” Ferrill said.

“Generation Z are health conscious, desire convenience and experts with mobile technology. This influences the way they eat because they have access to information on what’s going into their food and how it’s being prepared. In my position, I’m working with the students directly to make sure we’re catering to their needs based on those observations,” said Student Experience & Marketing Communications Manager for Fresh Ideas, Andy Painter.

Andy Painter is Student Experience & Marketing Communications Manager for Fresh Ideas and Maryville Alum. Painter helps make Gander and Louie’s cater to Maryville students. Photo courtesy of Andy Painter.

Painter is aware of these differences in eating habits in this new generation of students. He is working to make the eating experience at Maryville more accessible to cater to these changes.

“My own eating habits differ from Generation Z in a variety of ways. The most interesting difference to me comes from my days at Maryville University before 2016. As a student, I never thought about allergens or wondered how things were prepared,” Painter said.

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