How to Make the Most of Your Meal Plan

Freshmen and sophomores are required to have the anytime meal plan, which means half of the school’s undergrads are set to pay $3,720 a year for food. Since this is a substantial chunk of change, it is important you know how to get the most bang for your buck.

  • Know the rules: A student with the anytime meal plan can go to Cobeen, Straz or McCormick as many times a day he or she wants. At the more popular dining destinations: Schroeder Hall’s Café Italiano; the 1950s-style diner in Mashuda Hall; the six vendors at Marquette Place; the Natural Market in the AMU; the Annex (only one meal swipe per week); and four Brew Cafés on campus, students can swipe their meal card once during each meal period: breakfast (7:15–11:00 a.m.), lunch (11:00 a.m.– 4:00 p.m.) and dinner (4:00–7:00 p.m.). The anytime meal plan also includes 15 guest swipes and $50 of dining dollars.
  • Do the math: If you pay $1,860 per semester and there’s fifteen weeks in a semester, that means you spend $124 per week on food. That equals $17.70 per day. If you eat three meals a day, that’s $5.90 per meal. If you only eat two meals a day, that’s $8.85. I don’t know about you, but a bagel from Einstein – no matter how good it is – is not worth $8.85. Once the math is calculated, you may begin to realize that skipping a meal or hitting up Broken Yolk is costing you a significant amount of money.
  • Don’t eat out: When you factor all of the restaurant locations together, we have 14 different eating venues on campus. The only reason you may be getting tired of the college food is because you’re repetitively eating at the same place. If you live in McCormick but can’t stand one more greasy grilled cheese, head somewhere else. It’s hard to stick to eating mess hall foods when Qdoba and Jimmy John’s are blocks away, but you do have other options. You’re probably just too tired to brave the cold and try something different.
  • Plan your meals: Every dining hall, besides McCormick and Schroeder, close relatively early for college students. Because of this limitation, opt to go to McCormick or Schroeder for dinner if you prefer a later evening meal. Don’t visit McCormick or Schroeder for breakfast or lunch if you plan on getting supper, because you’ll get sick of the food. The same goes for weekends. Eat at the AMU and Straz during the week because they close their doors on weekends. By looking at what times different venues are open, you can schedule where to eat so your palate doesn’t grow immune to the same menu.
  • Take advantage of dining dollars: You’re paying for these, so you might as well use them. Use your dining dollars on items you can’t get with a meal swipe such as gatorades, desserts, or breakfast sandwiches from Einstein. Also, use them up even if it’s the last day of the semester. I bought some prepackaged crackers near the Marquette Place cash registers at the end of last semester. I didn’t end up eating them until winter break, but I was determined to get my money’s worth.
  • Save guest swipes for yourself: Seriously, no one ever uses these. Guest swipes can be used on upperclassmen without a meal plan (maybe offer them a meal in exchange for some mentoring advice?) or even on yourself. If you buy a salad from the AMU, use a guest swipe to buy a bagel for later. Just use them.
  • Combine anytime dining halls with destination dining: For example, eat a bowl of cereal with fruit for breakfast at Cobeen, and then head to the Brew before class and pick up a granola bar and warm cup of tea for a mid-morning snack. By combining anytime dining with destination dining, you get more food out of your meal plan, and can fully take advantage of every penny you are spending.