Food and Meal Plans

When you are away at college and living in a dorm room or university housing, it’s more than likely that you will have a “meal plan” that allows you a certain number of meals in any given week.  These meals can be had anywhere on campus that will accept a university meal card, but for the most part, you will be using your card at your school’s Food Services or Dining Halls.  

Now-a-days, colleges and universities have turned to a debit type system for their student’s meal plans.  Keep in mind that all colleges do things a certain way, but for the most part you deposit money into your account which allows you to buy meals depending on how much you’ve deposited.  Another, more traditional way, is paying an up-front, flat fee for a certain number of meals.  For instance, you would pay a flat fee of $50 per week to have 10 meals for that week and it would reset every Monday morning.  Both of these meal plan systems have their own set of advantages…   

Advantages Prepaid Meal Plans  

The first advantage worth mentioning is that it cuts down on theft of cash because students technically don’t have to carry money on them to go eat.  Also, it allows a certain allotment per week, month, or semester.  This is good for the student who is not that great at budgetting his or her money because technically you can’t go over a certain amount of money, or a certain number of meals.  The obvious drawback is if you run out of money or meals in any given week.  Then, you would have to rely on cash to get a meal somewhere off campus or at a pay vendor. 

Options for Meal Plans  

  • Debit System
    This type of meal plan system allows a student (or parents) to deposit an amount of money into your student account for use at food services or the dining halls across campus.  Once the money runs low or is at $0, you would need to deposit more in order to get your meals.  Many college campuses across the country allow for this type of system and would charge you a flat rate of say, $5, to have an all-you-can-eat type of meal.  Others, charge individually for each item that you put on your tray.
    The debit system can get costly, which is one of the drawbacks, so be careful here. 

    Knowing what is in your account and what the items cost is a must.  This system is also good practice for the real world.  When you graduate college, get a job and own a home,  you will need to budget your money.  The meal plan debit system is no different and learning how to do this in college is a real plus!

  • Prepaid Meal Plans
    A more traditional way of paying for your meals at college is the prepaid meal plan.  In this system, you are asked to pay a set amount of money up front for a set number of meals.  These plans can vary from one week, one month or a whole semester’s worth of meals.  As an example, you would purchase a 15 meals/week plan and pay around $75-$100 for that, up front.  Now, if you do the math on that, 15 meals per week comes out to just over 2 meals per day.  Yeah, that’s right – at least a few meals per week will have to be non-dining service.

    If you participate in the prepaid meal plans, we would recommend doing it by week.  If you do a one month prepaid plan, you could technically use all of your meals in three weeks.  Then you’d be in some  trouble having to pay cash for your meals for a whole week – cash that you probably don’t have.

First and foremost, check with your school to see which plan they offer and which is best for your needs.  Some schools may even offer a combination of both prepaid meal plans and the debit system.  It’s all up to you and what you think would work best for your situation.