How to Select the Best College Meal Plan

Most colleges offer a range of meal plan options, and it can be quite tricky to decide which one is right for you and your eating habits. But don't worry, choosing the right plan isn't as hard as it may seem.

Do Your Research

First of all, find out what your options are. Colleges typically offer a few different kinds of meal plans. One kind is like a debit account, where you have a certain amount of money in your account and are charged based on what food you purchase. Another kind gives you a set number of "meals." In this kind of plan, you get to go to the dining hall a certain number of times and eat as much as you want each time. There are also plans which combine a debit account and meal credits.

In order to make a good meal plan decision, you'll need to know what food is available on your campus. In some cases, the campus dining hall may be your only option. Or the campus may have several different dining halls in different buildings, and some may have better options than others. In other cases, the campus may host a number of outside vendors (like fast food chains or restaurants). Check out your school's website, make a phone call or two, or even contact some current students online and make sure you know what you're working with.

Different plans work for different people, depending on their lifestyles and eating habits. You know yourself best; what are your eating habits? Are you an early riser who needs a hearty breakfast to make it through the day? Or are you a night owl who usually eats dinner at 1 A.M.? Think about your schedule and your natural habits. How often do you really expect to eat in the dining hall, and how often you expect to eat at home or off-campus? Will your schedule allow you to eat meals in the dining hall at the designated times? If you take all these things into account first, making a meal plan decision will be a lot easier.

Read the Fine Print

In many cases, schools don't let meal credits roll over to the next semester or the next year. This may also be true for your debit account money. Make sure you know which dates your meal plan is valid, and how long you'll need to make that money last. It can be tempting to feast when that debit account is full, but if you spend too much right off the bat, you may be hurting later on. Conversely, committing to the most lavish meal plan may just be like throwing cash in the trash can.

Some schools have options for changing meal plans mid-semester. Learn what your options are, and if there are any deadlines for making these changes. Most of the time, you won't be able to get a refund for unused meal money, but you will be able to add more on later if you run out. Tend towards a smaller meal plan at first, knowing you can always upgrade down the road.

Dietary Restrictions

Most colleges are used to having a diverse student body with diverse dietary needs. As such, accommodating any dietary restrictions you might have (vegetarianism, food allergies, religious restrictions, etc.) is usually not an issue. Read up on what your school's options are, or call your school's dining services department. That way, you'll know where to find food that fits your needs as soon as you arrive.

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