Food Prices for College: A Guide

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College! Hooray!

You’re going to college. Hooray! But did you consider how you’re going to eat? That’s a thought that could stop you. You don’t want to live on Ramen noodles and tuna fish for the next four years, do you? No, I thought not. You don’t live with your parents anymore to coax them into microwaving you a Hot Pocket before you come home just before curfew.

Never fear. There is a nice thing called Meal Plans!

What Is A Meal Plan? And What Are Flex Dollars?

A meal plan is something you purchase from the college, so that you can use their cafeteria options in order to eat. Usually, you buy a specific amount of meals per week, and then you have the option of adding on so called ‘flex dollars.’

Flex dollars will often have a cutesy name like, Stallion Bucks, Triton Dollars, Dining Dollars, or something like that. They work like a debit card, and if you would like to purchase a snack, or something from a restaurant that your campus may offer that isn’t covered by your meal plan, these are what you’d use.

College food prices will differ from college to college. Some will allow you to eat an unlimited amount for each meal with a full meal plan. Some will give you a set dollar limit for each meal plan. Make sure you understand each plan before deciding to purchase it.

Options and Cost

You will have many options for a meal plan. You must keep in mind that freshmen are sometimes are required to buy a full meal plan. A full meal plan typically consists of;

-Three meals a day

-A few bonus meals

-Whatever flex dollars you put on.

This will cost between $2,500 and $3,000 on average.

Partial options include;

-Fourteen meals a week

-Ten meals a week

-Five meals a week.

Once again, there are options to add different amounts of flex dollars.

These plans, on average, can be from $1,000 for the five meals a week to $2,000 for the fourteen meals.

But Keep In Mind….

The more options a meal plan has, the more expensive it tends to be. Some meal plans don’t really break down how many per week you get. They give you a certain amount of meals and it is up to you to divide that over the amount of weeks you will be there. They are typically assuming you’ll use the same amount per week though.

Before you purchase a plan, do some math. Do you want to eat three meals a day? Do you have time? Do you even eat full meals, for the most part, or do you catch a snack? Is it worth the money to pay the sometimes high food prices for college? And on the note of snacks, is there one particular snack you find yourself reaching for in the vending machine? If so, don’t keep wasting your quarters; by that snack in bulk and stash it in your bag.

Check out your dining options, too. If you see a lot of food you know you’re going to like, is that going to make you more likely to buy a meal? Will you over eat? See if you can try some of the food on a visit or something before committing to a plan. You don’t want to pay for food that is disgusting and you will never eat. Are you allowed to take food out of the dining area? This is actually a big one, as some colleges will not allow food or plates or anything to be taken out. Also add in how likely you are to want something not available to you on campus and figure that in to your total cost of eating.

Don’t be fooled by how low the cost seems at first. There are some people who purchase the plans and never use them. There are some people who never have time to use them. Remember that a lot of college dining places close at a certain time. Are you going to be able to work your schedule around that? What are you going to do when it comes to having a midnight snack? Overall, what is the cost of each meal? It could just be too pricey for you, for the quality of food you’re getting, and the time constraints that are applied to it.

It is nice to have a dining plan over all; you just don’t want to have to spend more money on it than you really need to. There aren’t many colleges who offer a roll over plan as far as meals go. Once that semester or quarter is over, that money is gone.