For many students, freshman year will be their first time away from home. That means no more having a fully-stocked fridge just seconds from their room, or a parent to cook the things inside of them. If you’re one of these freshman, you’re probably wondering how you’re going to feed yourself when you go off to college.
Most schools have found the answer: a meal plan. Meal plans give students access to their campus dining halls or cafeterias, and they can use their meal plan to get food throughout the entire semester. It’s usually paid for all at once in the beginning of the semester, and at many schools, students are required to purchase one their first year.
So how do you pick a meal plan? The first thing you’re going to want to look at is what options your school provides. Many schools offer a variety of options, which could range from an “unlimited meal plan” to a strict number of meals a student is allowed to have in the dining hall for the semester.
Many schools recommend either getting a meal plan that allows unlimited access to the dining halls, or a plan that lets you into the dining halls at least twice daily. Your freshman year, you may not know exactly what your eating habits will consist of, especially since now may be the very first time that you get to eat whatever you want, whenever you want it.
Many dining halls have a buffet-type set up, meaning once you pay for your meal you’re allowed into the dining
hall to eat as much food as you like. They also cater to different students, having a wide range of foods to choose from, and on larger campuses, even offering multiple locations to dine from with different types of food in each.
Consider all of this when looking at meal plans, because it’s important that you’re investing in something that you can truly use while in school. Your parents may not be very amused if they were to find out that you’re barely eating because your meal plan is only good on the other side of campus, or if they have to keep sending you money because ordering-in seems so much better than what is in the cafeteria.
Many students recommend getting an unlimited plan freshman year if you eat smaller meals but more frequently throughout the day, as you can go back to the dining hall multiple times a day for just a piece of fruit or some ice cream. Those who eat less meals but more may benefit from a meal plan that limits how many times you may enter the dining halls; they are often cheaper price-wise, and they can be a good deterrent if you the “Freshman 15” is a concern.
If it doesn’t seem like your meal plan is working out for you so well, decide early on in the semester. Many schools will allow you to change your meal plan within the first couple weeks of school as they know many people change their minds about what is realistically a good fit for them. Your school will want you to succeed, and they are fully aware that a balanced and healthy diet is key to excelling in your studies.
Overall, before signing up for a meal plan, look at the rules and guidelines your school has set for getting a meal plan, where the dining halls are located on campus (and how realistic it is that you will actually make the trip to eat there), and finally your personal eating habits. Not every meal plan works for everyone, and that’s why schools have created a variety of meal plans, to accommodate to every student.
(Top photo by Josh Nunes under Creative Commons Attribution Generic 2.0)