What’s In a Student Meal Plan?

In the spirit of back to school questions, I thought we’d address the one thing that every new residence student is concerned about (in addition to booze and the opposite sex anyway) – food. Everyone has their own opinion on campus dining options and certainly not all places are created equal. I will say this much with a fair degree of certainty – students are some of the most picky eaters I have ever seen if we are going to generalize them as a group, and every campus I’ve ever been on charges a pretty decent price for their food options. These two factors lead to the vast majority of students complaining about the food options available on campus in Canada. I’ll be honest with you, I loved the food on campus. Was it fine dining? No. Did you probably pay a premium, even with residence meal plans? Definitely. Was it worth it for a single guy who was 18-years old to not have to cook or do dishes and have a bevy of options available to him at a moment’s notice? You betcha! As a big guy who loves to eat (probably a little too much) I like to think I know my way around a campus meal plan. Just make sure you don’t skip the salad bar too many nights in a row. Google “Freshmen 15” for further motivation.

No Dishes? Good Deal!

Most campuses will have some sort of meal card that is accepted throughout campus that is available to the general public, but the majority of people on a meal plan are on one that is purchased through a residence package. There are usually several options available, but my recommendation for most young gentleman is to get the largest option for your first semester. If it is a little too much you can make a few friends at the end of the semester and take them out for a meal before adjusting it for the following four months. In my experience most young guys will eat their way through the maximum fairly efficiently. I’m not going to pretend to understand young women or their eating habits. I know some girls who ate more than I did and didn’t gain a pound, I know others that ate at crazy times of the day, so I really have no idea what package you should order, but if a refund is available, I would go with at least the medium option in most cases. Depending on how the campus has set up the meal plan, you may be forced to use a central dining hall location if you live in residence, or you may be able to eat at a variety of places around campus. If this information isn’t available on the website a quick call to housing should solve your problem.

Stretching Your Food Bucks

In order to stretch your plan I recommend having breakfast in your dorm room. I know that the little fridge that most students have can fill up with beer rather quickly, but investing in a jug of milk every now and again and having a box of cereal on hand can be a big money saver. It’s also quick and easy in the morning when you’re in a rush to get to that 8:30 class that you’re kicking yourself for taking every Tuesday and Thursday.

One other quick tip that I have for meal plans, and it should be fairly common sense (aren’t most 18-year olds known for this?) is NOT to use your meal plan money on booze. I can’t believe that some places allow this, but on some campuses this is an overlooked option. Booze has notoriously high markups and will chew you’re plan faster than I get through a good cheeseburger (not a pretty site for you vegetarians out there). Get your lazy but down to the beer vendor and buy a box of Lucky (what you’re too good for Lucky?) and save your food money for when you are starving in March and have to get through late night exam cram sessions!

Veteran Leadership

Finally, if this is your first time with a meal plan, take your cue from the veterans. They will know how and where to scam extra bits of food. I remember my first year when I moved in I seen these older guys quickly walking upstairs with a bunch of juice boxes and Danishes. I didn’t understand it until the next year when I realized that if you were there before the first year kids moved in you could steal some treats that were set out to impress parents as they moved in. The older guys/gals will also know where the best places to eat on campus are and what is the best value to be had. Personally, I had a meal plan for four years, and by the end of it I knew the cooking and serving staff so well at a couple places that I got free stuff all of the time, and always got generous portions. It’s amazing how much people appreciate basic friendliness and politeness in today’s world, and like my old coach always said on road trips – manners are free.

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Our meal plan while on campus was a decent deal but if you were a commuter it made more sense to just buy campus dining dollars instead of a plan unless you consistently ate at the all you can eat buffet.

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