The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Meal Plan in College

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Meal Plan

Eating in college — well, it’s complicated. With so many options to choose from, you may be wondering how is the best way to pay for all of your late night snacks and morning cereal buffets. This guide will show you everything you’ll need to consider when choosing a meal plan in college.

The Pros and Cons of Choosing a Meal Plan in College

Pro: Convenience

You don’t want to have to worry about money, especially if you’re not planning on working while in college. And having mom and dad transfer money to your account for a meal is just too taxing (and sometimes risky). With a meal plan, your money designated for all of your meals is on one card, often your ID, and there when and where you need it.

Con: Expense

Meal plans  often look like a bargain, but if you’re not a huge eater, you may be coughing up more money than you actually would spend out of pocket. Before you sign on the dotted line for a meal plan, read through the cost breakdowns and consider your own lifestyle. After all, oatmeal or cereal shouldn’t cost you $8 each breakfast.

Pro: Plan in Advance

For budget-minded students, a meal plan can be the easiest way to budget. Instead of having to split your income or allowance, it’s already done for you. You don’t have to worry about starving on Ramen till the end of the week or begging friends for a few dollars for a slice of pizza. Everything is laid out for you.

Con: Lots to Lose

Remember that student who didn’t eat a ton? What happens to them when the semester or year is up? Each plan is different, but for many, it may mean losing out on a ton of actual money. Even worse, it may force you to go “shopping” so you don’t waste those points or dollars. Who wants a 24-pack of Gatorade and a bulk stock of granola bars?

Pro: Great for Full-Timers

Meal plans work for students who are on campus the most. These are the students who eat every meal in the cafeterias, including on the weekends. It’s basically a guarantee that you’ll be covered for every food need you can think of.

Con: Inflexible

However, if you switch from full time to part time, take up an internship, move off-campus, or just decide that you hate your cafeteria, you won’t have many options. Many schools do not allow students to change up their meal plan until the end of a certain period of time, leaving you with points you won’t use.

Pro: Your Financial Aid May Cover It

Whether you’re on a full ride scholarship, have a few sponsors covering your back, or living off of student loans, you may be able to fund your meal plan without using a dime of your money. Meal plans are typically covered under room and board, so if your financial aid extends to those expenses, you could be in luck.

Con: It’s Complicated

Figuring out points vs. dollars, meals vs. snacks, and your amount remaining can be hard to keep up with. While some schools have made it easy for you to track and spend, others lag behind making it your responsibility to know when you’re running low or when you need to change it up. Just another thing to consider when debating between meal plans.

 

10 Reactions to Your First Dining Hall Meal

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Let’s be real – when it comes to eating all your meals in a dining hall cafeteria, you’re probably less than thrilled. Having the perks of someone making your food for you dies away when you grab your first plastic tray and head in line. Still, eating your first dining hall meal can’t be all bad, can it?

Excitement

giphy

It’s here! It’s here! Your first day eating in a college dining hall! This is one of those moments you’ll probably remember forever. At least, you hope it will be. You may be the only one ready and eager to try out the delicious treats your campus’ chefs have cooked up, but don’t let that stop you from being giddy with excitement.

Trepidation

Wait, this is totally different from your high school cafeteria’s setup! What do you do with this tray? Do you weigh your food yourself? Would you look horrible if you took two boxes of cereal? How do you use this meal card?! Why must this be so complicated!?!?

Suspicion

That looks like real food, smells like real food—but is it really real food? Those upperclassmen are avoiding the pasta line. Best follow their lead and stay clear as well. Who knows what’s going on there.

Uncertainty

Okay. Your first piece of food probably looks edible. But you know that looks can be deceiving. It’s time to face your fears. Dive in and see what it actually tastes like.

Courage

Bottoms up! Take that first taste with confidence. After all, you’re going to have to get used to it whether you like it or not!

Disgust

WHAT IS THIS?! That bland cafeteria food turned out to be exactly what you suspected all along: inedible mush. It’s time to call your parents and blame them for letting you buy the most expensive meal plan offered. Hopefully they can still get their money back!

Angst

You should probably just stick to granola bars and ramen noodles for the next four years. Maybe your parents will even send you care packages if you ace your first exams. It may be hard on your diet, but it has to be better than that first taste of food…

Interest

But wait! What is that guy eating? It looks amazing and smells like something your mom would cook for you. Perhaps you should give this a second go. After all, you would hate to spend the next four years holdup in your dorm room chowing down on microwave popcorn. This could be a sign that you could survive your first year of eating in a college dining hall.

Satisfaction

That other student totally has this figured out! That taco platter you made was totally worth the strange looks you probably got going for your second round of food. They may even be worth going back for a third time! If every meal has at least one great dish, you can totally make cafeteria food work. It’s all about finding what will satisfy your picky appetite.

Hunger

Don’t just stop at one cafeteria or one food selection! There are others to try. Only a couple more hours until the dining hall opens up again so you can satisfy your new hunger. Better go wait in line before the food gets cold.

Surviving the Dining Halls and the Freshman 15

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food courts

It’s still up in the air as to whether the freshman fifteen is actually a “thing”. I’ve decided it’s just a rash generalization, and although it does happen to some, it doesn’t happen to all (or even the majority). But how can you make sure that you’re not one of the victims of the freshman fifteen while being at the mercy of the dining hall cooks?

Keep healthy snacks in your dorm – It’s easier to resist those calorie-loaded snacks in the food court if you know that as long as you hold off for a little while longer, you can have a similar low-calorie option in your room later if the craving still persists.

Everything in proportion – Keep in mind that it’s okay to splurge on that soft serve ice cream machine every once in a while. Just remember that you don’t have to fill the bowl to the brim- maybe put it in a cup instead. This rule holds not only for dessert but the main course as well. Decide how full you will fill your plate and what portion of it should be carbs, veggies, protein, etc.

Make it quick – In order to keep your portions down, don’t turn dinner into social hour… or two or three. Lingering in the food court can cause you to go back for seconds even when you’re not necessarily hungry. Instead, leave when you finish eating and socialize elsewhere!

Fruits and veggies – Unless they’re dowsed in oil and butter, it’s pretty hard to mess up vegetables… and the same goes for fruit unless they’re coated in sugar. Keep your plate bright and colorful with fruit and veggies. If you’re worried about how they may have been prepared, keep them fresh and head to the salad bar.

Create a routine and/or plan ahead – Creating a routine is a great way to ensure that you are eating right. It also makes things easy – you won’t have to worry about your nutrition everyday if you are eating the same foods/ types of food. Sometimes the food court doesn’t offer the same items though. In this case, check the menu online (if it’s offered). This way you can go straight for the healthy option you picked out ahead of time and not get side tracked.

How have you combated the Freshman 15? Is it a source of concern for you? Let us know!