If Your School Uses Dining Dollars
- Do not buy drinks. Try to cut out spending $1.50 or more on a bottle of Coca-Cola. Instead, bring a reusable water bottle with you to the dining hall and fill it up at the water fountain. Water is totally free, and you can add flavor variety with powder packets, liquid flavoring, or infusing it with fruit. It is amazing how much money you end up saving when you eliminate bottled drinks.
- Get everything in to-go containers. Whether that is paper plates or, like at Southern New Hampshire University, a reusable plastic container that you pay for once and trade out each time, get all your food in containers that can be brought out of the dining hall. You can easily save leftovers in your refrigerator for a few days and reheat when you get hungry, especially if your school is heavy on the portion sizes. This way, you are not wasting food, and you are also not wasting the money you spent on that food.
- Pay-by-weight. Some schools will have stations that require a pay-by-weight option, such as salad or fruit and yogurt bars. Load up your salad bowl with vitamin-rich leafy greens and protein-rich toppings like garbanzo beans or sunflower seeds, but be sure to skip the dressing. You’ll eat healthier and feel fuller for less than what you would probably spend on a cheeseburger and fries.
- Don’t be afraid to put in a little work. Sometimes, hot and ready meals are the most expensive options. Try swapping out some of your premade options with things you might have to cook yourself. If your dining hall has oatmeal packets for sale, try buying some of those and microwaving them yourself. You can even use them to make overnight oats if you have an early class. You can boost the flavor of overnight oats by adding fruit and granola or nuts.
If Your School Uses Meal Swipes
- Know the rules. While some universities with meal swipe plans will allow you to take out leftovers, others will not. Knowing rules like this will let you to adjust your approach to the meal process. If your school permits leftovers, take leftovers whenever possible. If it doesn’t, try dividing your total number of swipes evenly across the days you will be eating on campus. This will allow you to establish a routine and augment meals in other ways. For example, if the numbers only work out to two meals a day, try a brunch-time meal and an early dinner, with snacks like granola bars or fruit in between. Or, use your two swipes for regular lunch and dinner, and eat instant oatmeal for breakfast. Adjust to the schedule that works best for you.
- Make full use of your other options. If your school does meal swipes, they may also offer an additional option for your meal plan. UNC Wilmington, for example, offers Teal Meals and Food Dollars in addition to their dining hall swipes. In this situation, use Food Dollars to stock up on prepackaged snacks like granola bars or trail mixes that will keep you full for longer. Use Teal Meals to augment days where you might only have two meal swipes, but you would like to eat three meals.
- Spend all your time in the dining hall. Many schools that offer meal swipes now, such as UNC Chapel Hill, The University of Cincinnati, and The University of Michigan, have multiple options that give you unlimited swipes. If you want to get the most out of your meal plan without spending extra money on snacks to keep in your dorm room, try spending your free time – and your study time – in the dining hall. Swipe in, set up, and grab some food. Even if you don’t eat constantly, you will have access to fruits, snacks, and beverages during your study time. You will not only get the most out of your meal plan, but you will also prevent spending money on other food.
Meal plans are all about knowing your options and adjusting those options to your lifestyle. They may seem tricky, but use them right and you’ll be eating well all school year long!
Photo: University of Victoria
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