As a college freshman, it’s pretty standard to have a meal plan. It’s convenient, you don’t have to worry about grocery shopping or cooking (not that freshmen have kitchens, anyway), and it’s what everyone else has. People ask me all the time why I don’t have a meal plan, so I thought it’d be good to explain my rationale. I’m definitely not trying to convince anyone else not to have one (I think for most people, having a meal plan IS the best option!), but just wanting to explain why not having a meal plan works best for me personally.
1. Limited healthy options. I think it’s definitely possible to choose healthy options at the dining hall, but there’s not a ton of variety at our dining hall. There’s always a salad bar and some fresh fruit, but other options seem to be hit-or-miss. I also don’t eat the meat there. I do pay to eat at the dining hall sometimes if that’s where friends want to meet, but there’s not that much variety for me to do it on a everyday basis.
2. Cost. For the smallest meal plan offered at my school (~1 all-you-can-eat meal per day, which is the most I’d want to eat in the dining hall), the cost averages out to $10.69 per meal.
$1069 per semester/100 meals = $10.69 per meal
It’s hard for me to justify spending almost $11 every day for a meal that I don’t enjoy that much.
3. I like eating smaller meals with lots of snacks, and if I was only eating one meal at the dining hall per day, I’d feel like I had to eat a huge meal to make my $11 meal swipe worth it. I have friends who are big eaters who love having an all-you-can-eat meal plan, so it definitely just depends on the person.
4. There are lots of options for places to eat out on campus. Right below the dining hall, there are quick food options from both local restaurants and chains like Chick-fil-A. There are also tons of restaurants close to campus from Chipotle, Noodles & Co, and Panera to all kinds of great local places. A $5 bowl of pasta from Noodles, a $7 salad from Panera, etc. are things that I really enjoy and that are a lot cheaper than a $10.69 meal at the dining hall.
or a $5 wrap from Chick-fil-A
5. I can still be social. Eating in the dining hall IS a really social thing to do, but I have lunch dates with friends every day, and I go out to eat with friends on the weekends, which is perfect for me.
A Ben & Jerry’s kind of night with Jess and Emma!
6. I like being excited about what I’m eating. I don’t mind the challenge of figuring out how to eat healthy, grocery shop, etc. in college (I actually like it!), so it’s definitely worth the extra effort to be able to I enjoy what I eat every day. Having no meal plan as a freshman is some extra effort, though, but if it’s worth it to you, it can be really fun.
So, again, this is just what works for me. With a meal plan, you’re paying for the convenience and time-saving aspects, and I totally understand how these benefits are worth it to most people. I also understand that at some colleges, freshmen are required to have a meal plan, and I think that’s totally doable, too. Given the choice, though, I like having the flexibility to figure out my own meals. And if you’re like me, you might, too!
Questions: If you’re in college, do you have a meal plan? If you’re out of college, did you used to have a meal plan? Do you like having one?
Janette Jorgensen says
Love this! Answers:
Vanderbilt requires all freshmen to have a meal plan with 21 meals per week. That’s right, three THIRTEEN DOLLAR meals a day. It’s ridiculous. But I rarely get $13 worth of food for a meal. It’s gotten to the point where I get a granola bar, fruit, and a smoothie or chocolate milk for breakfast, grab another something quick/not too heavy for lunch, and only eat dinner in the dining hall because otherwise it is more food than I could possibly eat. I love your ideas about college without a meal plan, though! That would definitely be worth a try, not to mention all the money you’re saving 🙂
Wow, that’s crazy that they require freshmen to have 3 meals per day on your meal plan, especially when they’re so expensive! It’d definitely be pretty hard to eat $13 worth of food at every meal. Will you have more flexibility next year?
I didn’t know you had a blog!! I’ll definitely have to check it out 🙂
Clair Rickert says
I’ve been dissatisfied with my meal plan for a while now, unfortunately we don’t have a nearby Panera or Chipotle on my campus. 🙁
I’m stuck with meal plan until I can get an apartment (hopefully!) by junior year
Aw, sorry to hear that, Clair! I hope that you’re able to get an apartment by junior year and do some cooking and be able to make all of the things you love!
Kerri McGrail says
Wow, I am shocked that your school does not require a meal plan! I wish that I could have been able to not have a meal plan. I never ate meat from the cafeteria because it always seemed so off and lived off salads and fruit. I was so sick of the same old low quality and lack of healthy options. I am a senior about to graduate now and when I finally was able to move out of the dorms and into my own apartment Junior year I was so excited to be able to cook and buy my own food. It seems like you have a pretty good system down and are saving lots of $$ I would definitely go for a panera salad over dining hall food any day!
I had a meal plan when I went to college but I can see why someone would choose to not have one. I think that every campus has different options and some are better than others. At the time, my school didn’t have many alternatives unless you wanted to eat off-campus. It wasn’t until my junior year when I lived in the on-campus apartments that I opted to not have a meal plan because I had a kitchen to cook in instead. That was SO much better!