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How to Maximize Your College Meal Plan

Posted: July 5, 2022
student microwaving food

So, you’ve moved out of the house and into your college dorm room. You’re ready to take on the world and live out the dreams of living on your own. Suddenly, you quickly realize that groceries don’t just appear in the fridge as they did at home. Fear not! When you filled out your school financials, you likely chose a meal plan or one was assigned to you. But what is a meal plan, and how do you use it? Collegeboxes has a few suggestions to help you (and your stomach) make it through the year.  

What Is a Meal Plan?  

A meal plan is the amount of money, credits, or swipes assigned to you for the semester, usually connected to your student ID card. Typically, it’s picked out at the beginning of the year and then added to your tuition. It can also be directly assigned to you if your school has a “room and board” situation. This is where your food money is incorporated into the on-campus living costs. Each school has a different type of plan depending on what their cafeteria and on-campus dining look like, so it is important to learn right away how yours works.  

How Do I Make It Last?  

Once you have discovered what your meal plan looks like, it is time to get to the planning part. Depending on your school, you may have limited swipes per day/week or unlimited swipes but with a free meal daily (usually up to $15). (Side note – some schools may incorporate your laundry money in with your food money if it is kept on the same card, so be aware of this too!) Here are some ways to help you save money and get the most out of your meal plan. 

  • Decide if groceries are an option for you
  • Take advantage of free meals 
  • Use your meal swipe nightly
  • Plan times to eat and how much   

Grocery Shop

The first step is to decide if you are going to strictly live off of school food or if you will be able to buy groceries as well. Try to keep some type of groceries/snacks in the room so that if those 11 p.m. munchies hit, you don’t have to leave the room or waste a swipe on something small. Quick foods and snacks such as ramen, granola bars, bread, etc. are great to keep in the room. If you have a mini-fridge, use it to your advantage. Keep perishable groceries in there such as milk, yogurt, and drinks. That way, if you need to eat breakfast in the room you have the option.   

Meal Plan

If you don’t have the option for groceries, then there are still ways for you to live off of your meal plan. Whether you’re the type to eat three square meals a day or just a snacker, you need to have an idea of when and how much you will eat at a time. If your school is the type to give you money and a free meal swipe a day, use that for the most expensive meal of the day. Make sure you use it every day! You already paid for it, and so if you don’t, it just disappears and you cannot get it back. For the days you don’t feel like eating that third meal, use it for snacks and water. This way, you can leave them in your dorm or take them throughout the day and save yourself from using other swipes. If you’re a leftover person, save those too for those late study night cravings.   

Take Advantage of the Free Stuff!

Another way to score great food on a budget would be at school events. Most events will have some sort of snacks or meal for you to take home, and there are almost always water bottles (which are crucial in college to stay hydrated). Use this to your advantage! There is no shame in storing a little extra for later because someone else is probably doing the same. Plus, it is a great way to make new friends and stay involved on campus.   

What About Groceries and Cooking in My Room?  

When it comes to cooking on campus and what groceries to get, you have to think about what appliances you are allowed to keep in your room, and if there is a community kitchen on a floor close to your dorm room. If personal appliances are allowed, invest in these items: a microwave, hotpot, toaster, blender (if you are a smoothie person, this will definitely save you money), and a coffee maker (also will save you money). These allow you to make more food in the room and spend less at school if you have a smaller meal plan. Depending on what you have access to will help decide what groceries to get. If you have a microwave, get microwavable meals. The toaster is excellent if you like bread or bagels for breakfast because one loaf of bread is likely going to cost just as much as or close to the price of a sandwich in the cafeteria. A hot pot is good for soups, mac-and-cheese, ramen, you name it. We have a list of five recipes you can cook in your dorm room here. 

So now that you know the basics on how to maximize your meal plan, why stop there? Collegeboxes can also help maximize your moving budget and even take some hard work off your hands. Collegeboxes, the No.1 student storage and shipping provider, is the consensus choice for students and parents. We offer Storage and ShippingShip to School, and Direct Shipping services at 350-plus schools. Try a bite of our services, and you’ll be left satisfied, just like that first sip of freshly made iced coffee.