Calorie Cost Project

Math 216 Research Project
March 25, 2012
How Much Does a Calorie Cost?
A Case Study on Vanderbilt Munchie Marts

Project Proposal:

Vanderbilt students’ dining options center around the Meal Plan program. As First Years, food is plentiful and easily accessible, allowing for three meals a day, seven days a week. Sophomores and Juniors, however, are limited by ever decreasing plans that restrict to 14 or even 8 meals a week. Ensuring students can get enough calories while on a limited food budget can require careful planning and research. How much food does the Vanderbilt Meal Plan really provide? This report explores the relationship between Munchie Mart food costs and the amount of calories this food contains.

The FDA suggests that college age student should consume on average 1800 – 2500 calories per day, depending on gender, body type and activity level (Wayne 2011). As average food costs for the nation continue to rise, it is important to make economical decisions when buying food. How much would it cost to supply a student the requisite caloric intake by shopping at the on campus Munchie Marts? What are the most economical options on the meal plan? We will gather data from in-person visits to the store and record price, calories, weight, fat, and carbohydrate content for each item available in the store. We will also record whether it counts as a Meal Plan Entree, Side, or neither.

The primary question we will answer is whether or not a week’s worth of trips to the Munchie Mart can provide enough calories to meet FDA requirements. We will take a mathematical average of all the entree and side options and run a confidence test against the FDA suggestions. Given that a sophomore student has a default meal plan of two meals a day, each meal purchase should average at least 1000 calories. We will test whether an average meal contains the requisite 1000 calories or if Vanderbilt Dining does not provide students with enough food for their basic calorie needs. We will run confidence tests around the 1000 calorie mark with a null hypothesis of H0: u >= 1000 calories and an alternative hypothesis of HA: u < 1000. We are structuring our hypotheses to avoid a Type II error that results in undernutrition. If it turns out that the average meal is not sufficient to provide a student their daily needs, it is important to know that careful planning may be required. Alternatively, students may be encouraged to re-evaluate their meal plan selections for the coming year, especially if they do not plan on grocery shopping on the side. Other questions we will attempt to answer include: what is the most efficient use of a single meal; is getting three sides instead of one entree and two sides that bad of an economic choice; if you must purchase with meal money, what is the cheapest dollar per calorie meal option?

We hope this information will allow Vanderbilt students to make the most of their food options as well as provide an educational study on making smart economic decisions. It is important to understand how our consumer dollars are being spent, especially when we graduate and start buying our own groceries.


Abdul Kamaruzaman
Ben Draffin


Wayne, Jake. (2011). FDA recommended calories. Retrieved from

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