How do I Choose the Best College Meal Plan?

B. Miller

For students living on campus, a comprehensive college meal plan is often included in their tuition costs, under room and board fees. This meal plan may feature three meals a day, seven days a week, along with extra money for snacks. Some students may commute to college, however, or only attend part-time, and will need to select a different college meal plan. It is important to choose the best one for your needs, and to not shortchange yourself, and end up going hungry halfway through the semester.

Colleges typically offer several meal plans, which can be used at various locations on campus.
Colleges typically offer several meal plans, which can be used at various locations on campus.

Begin by researching information about the different college meal plans offered by your university, as well as their price. Many schools offer convenient brochures or comparison charts illustrating the features of each individual college meal plan, as well as the cost. Next, consider the amount of time spent on campus. Some colleges offer plans divided up by week; for instance, a plan might offer ten meals a week.

A meal plan is sometimes included in a college's tuition cost.
A meal plan is sometimes included in a college's tuition cost.

For someone who is only on campus Monday through Friday, and may only eat breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner at the university, this meal plan can work very well, and can be a great way to save money. Another college meal plan may only offer five meals a week, or one meal a day. A "five on two off" meal plan is another popular option, where students are able to eat three meals per day five days a week, but then do not have any meals available on the weekends.

It is important to consider how much time you plan to spend on campus when choosing a college meal plan. If you can afford it, it may be best to slightly overestimate to give yourself some freedom, and the ability to grab an extra meal if you get hungry. Keep in mind that there will likely be times when you spend more time than usual on campus, such as when studying for finals or completing a large project. At the same time, some students tend to get tired of eating cafeteria food every day, and as the semester progresses, may end up wanting to dine off-campus more often; thus, it is important to honestly consider one's food habits and preferences in making this decision.

Many college meal plans allow students to eat at various locations on campus, such as a cafeteria or student cafe. Meal plans also frequently include extra "spending money," for an additional fee of course, that may be used to purchase items such as a bag of chips or a soda when it does not make sense to use an entire meal voucher. Some colleges allow students to modify or add to their meal plans during the semester, so it may be possible to adjust a meal plan if it is offering too much or too little opportunity to get something to eat.

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Discussion Comments


You should also check the times in which meals are served and on which days at your college cafeteria.

I work on campus three days a week until seven o'clock. The diner closes at 7, so I'm usually unable to make it to dinner on those days.

We are also not given dinner on Sundays. So I make sure to go for lunch that day and that plan for dinner off campus.

So you should consider your schedule before you pick a plan.


I changed my meal plan three times during college because I realized that my needs were changing. In the beginning, I got twenty meals per week, but that was too much. I was eating cereal in my dorm and never went to breakfast. For lunch, I would grab a sandwich from one of the campus cafeterias. I was basically going to the dining facilities only for dinner. So I changed my plan according to that.

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