A Guide to Selecting a Meal Plan – GradPlan

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A Guide to Selecting a Meal Plan

What to know when deciding how often you will eat on campus

What is a Meal Plan?

A meal plan is a prepaid amount of money that can only be spent on food at the campus dining halls and, in some cases, campus grocery stores.

Why is it Important?

Meal plans are a very important part of living on campus. Many dorms do not have kitchens or kitchenettes and you will rely on a cafeteria and/or dining hall for daily meals.

Am I Required to Get a Meal Plan? 

If you’re living on campus, most 4-year colleges require incoming freshmen to have a meal plan to help make the transition to college life easier. Some colleges require all full-time students to have a meal plan, whether they live on campus or not. Some 2-year institutions offer meal plans and dining on campus! Be sure you know your campus’s requirements and options.

What to Consider When Selecting a Meal Plan?

There are usually different meal plan options available at different price points. When choosing your plan, consider:

🍕 Your Dietary Restrictions or Preferences. Are there options that you can eat?

🍕 Your Eating Schedule. Is the dining hall open when you usually eat? Will you need to adjust your eating schedule in order to use your meal plan?

🍕 How many meals will you eat on campus? How much does it cost? Meal plan prices are usually based on how many meals you are going to eat in the dining hall each week.

Here are some common meal plan options: 

💲 Cheapest
~ 10 meals per week ~

Two meals a day M—F. This would be good for someone with a kitchen who wants the option to eat in the Dining Hall sometimes.

💲💲  Mid-price
~ 14 meals per week ~

Two meals a day, 7 days a week. Many students choose this if they are not big breakfast eaters, or if they dine out a few times each week.

💲💲💲  Most Expensive
~ 21 meals per week ~

Three meals a day, 7 days a week. You’ll never have to worry about not having enough food to eat.

Deciding On Your Meal Plan

Meal plans look expensive up front, but you need food to fuel all the learning you’ll be doing. Here are some practical decision making tips:

Do the Math

  • Break down each meal plan by cost per meal.
  • If you’re debating between cooking at home and a meal plan, break down the cost per meal with your grocery bill, and remember the time it takes you to cook has a cost to it as well.

Be Realistic

Ask yourself:

  • How much will you actually cook for yourself?
  • How many meals will you eat in the dining hall?
  • Will you be dining out at all? If so, how much?

~ Remember ~

If you do get a meal plan, use it! Unused meal plan funds likely will not be refunded at the end of the semester.

Check your school’s Dining Services page for meal plans and additional info or our Program Finder which has Housing & Dining information for over 60 college campuses

This is a big decision. Make sure you give yourself enough time to make the best choice for you!

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"Education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today."

Malcolm X, human rights activist