College Meal Plans What you need to Know

College Meal Plans

Once you decide on a specific college or university, you may start thinking about other factors including food. At first, it may not seem like a top priority, but you are going to be eating here for nine months.

I know everyone always jokes about gaining the freshman 15 pounds, but you also have to think about which food pans you want and how much money you’re going to be spending on extra food.

Obviously, you can’t buy a ton of groceries seeing as you’re living in a dorm room with probably just a refrigerator and microwave. Speaking of that, you do want to make sure that you know if your dorm room comes with a microwave or mini fridge, and if it does not you need to figure out if you want one or not.

These are all things that you’re going to start worrying about once you start getting to the logistics of actually going to college.

You’re also going to want to buy a ton of snacks to start yourself off with the first semester. You may not want to get breakfast every day so you might want granola bars or other breakfast type foods for the morning.

You might also want snacks during the day or at night.

If you are taking a coffee maker or a Keurig with you, you’re going to have to bring kai cups and maybe buy coffee creamer once you get to school. There are really a lot of things remember to bring when it comes to food and drink.

If you’re a tea drinker you’re not going to need to get tea bags and bring honey. These are just the types of things that you need to think about and figure out. You need to make a list so that you are completely prepared before your first semester of college.

Now in almost every college, you’re going to have to buy a food plan at least your first year of school. This means that you’re going to have to look into each different food plan and figure out what will work best for you.

Here are some things to think about when it comes to deciding what to do about food and food plans during college.

Try it Before First Semester

When you go on your orientation or when you go on visit, don’t go out to a fancy lunch with your family. Instead,  try maybe a coffee place and a food hall on campus. These are going to be one of your only chances to actually try the food at your campus before attending.

Now obviously if you have friends that you’re going to stay with you can try the food during your stay with your friend at that specific university.  The university usually tells you that you are able to walk around and look at everything that you want. This means that you should probably have the opportunity to walk into a couple of different dining halls if you really want to.

This would be helpful especially if you were a picky eater so you can scope out if you’re going to like most of the food or if you’re going to want to save extra money for extra food.

Food plans are normally a pretty expensive part of college so it is really something that you wanna think about. You could save a lot of money depending on what specific food plan you choose.

Going along with buying a food plan, you could also not get a big enough food plan and have to spend a lot of extra money on groceries and going out to eat. Of course, this is the first time that you’re actually thinking about paying for food yourself all the time so it may take some getting used to.

You normally have a little bit of leeway where you can change your mind about your specific food plan after a couple of weeks into the semester. This is good because it gives you a moment to try out and see what you actually need at college.

How to Pick a College Meal plan, Ask Current Students

More than likely, you may know one or more students that are going to your specific university. It never hurts to ask them about their opinions on the food plan and what they think is best.

They have been there for at least a year or more and they definitely know their way around campus and the food halls. 

When you are preparing to go to college, there are already so many overwhelming decisions that you need to make. It will be helpful if you just know the right decision to make about your food. If a friend or someone you know can just tell you a simple layout of the food plan and what the best decision for you is to do, it will really take away a lot of stress.

I know that I had many friends who chose food plans that did not work for them at all and they had to change it after a few weeks. I also know a lot of friends who didn’t realize until too late and then had a food plan it didn’t work for them for an entire semester.

I was personally very confused about the entire food plan situation so I asked my older brother who had already gone to the same school as me for help and chose my decision strictly off of what he told me. It worked out well for me and I’m glad that I had someone to give me advice.

Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice because they normally don’t mind giving it and you might as well benefit from having a friend at the University. I know that it seems like a friend who is only one year older than you have not really been at college that much longer than you.

Believe me, an entire year of college feels like so much longer and they probably have so much more knowledge than you can ever imagine about everything.

Research Food Halls at the College

At most schools, especially big schools, you should be able to look up how many different food halls and dining options they have. They may not always have all of the menus, but sometimes they may even have some of the food options that they offer.

If you have any sort of dietary restrictions this can also be very important to make sure that you know how many different places will actually offer you food that you can eat. This will just really give you a good idea of the variety of food and dining halls that you have access to.

A few examples below to see how dining is set up at colleges.

Research Nearby Restaurants and Cafes

 It is also not a bad idea to look up all the different restaurants and cafés that are near your campus. If you are a picky eater you may want to know that there are restaurants around you that you enjoy eating. Plus, it is always nice to have a day off of eating campus food or if you’re celebrating an event.

Food is a big part of living, so make sure that you were happy with at least some of the food choices at your school. If not, you were going to need to bring more food with you.

You can make a lot more in a microwave than you think.

Also, most dorms will have a kitchenette on one of the floors of the dorm. Although this is a community kitchen, you obviously have access to cook if you really need to.

My friends and I cooked pasta one night in the kitchen at my dorm and it was actually pretty fun. So don’t be afraid to cook in the kitchen if that is something that you’re interested in.  Of course, you have to make sure that your dorm even has one in the first place.

What does the Average Meal Plan Cost for College

When you get notified about picking a food plan, they should give you an outline of what each food plan consists of and how much it costs.

Don’t pick the lowest price food plan just because you don’t wanna pay money.

You don’t want to have to be hungry or not having enough food for an entire semester. Food helps you do a lot of things especially focus on things like education so it is definitely worth it to take out the extra thousand dollars in loans to be happily fed all semester.

If anything you can always take it down after a few weeks to the lower-priced food plan if needed.

Meals at College How it Works

Most schools have what they call swipes. This means that you get an allotted number of swipes that equals a meal.

I personally chose one that gave me 14 meals a week which equals about two meals a day. I don’t ever eat breakfast so this worked out very well for me. I always had a few swipes left over to spend on extra goodies at the end of the week but not all schools do this. You need to check if your school does and if they do let you spend your swipes at the end of the week it is very useful.

I was able to buy cough medicine, tissues, silverware, and other groceries. I also never felt like I didn’t have enough swipes to get me through the week.

You may also have different forms of money that allow you to get meals at surrounding restaurants and cafés. This is obviously something that is completely up to you and your eating habits. Just make sure that you are choosing a meal plan that will give you sufficient food for you and your body type.


Overall choosing a meal plan is really something that’s up to you and your wants and needs. You definitely want to ask others for advice, but in the end, it’s up to what you want and what you’re going to be comfortable with. You already have enough to worry about your first semester of college that the last thing you want to be worrying about is food which is a basic need of life.

You need to read what students think they won’t need at college but they do need it.

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