Once you’ve decided (or been forced) to live on campus, you’ll need to decide if you want to buy a meal plan or make your own food. While this may seem like a simple decision, you should put some thought into it before you choose one or the other. Consider the following things when thinking about whether you should buy a meal plan.
First, think about how much effort you’re willing to put into making food.
If the answer is “not much” or “none,” you’re probably better off buying a meal plan. You’ll be able to get your meals from the cafeteria without having to worry about making anything at all. This can be especially convenient during really busy times during the semester, like around mid-term and final weeks.
If you choose not to buy a meal plan, be sure to understand that you’ll need to put at least some amount of effort into your meal-making (unless you plan on eating out all the time . . . which gets really expensive really fast).
One of the best ways to prepare meals without feeling like you’re always in the kitchen instead of doing homework is to take a couple hours out of a Saturday or Sunday afternoon and make large batches of food. Put meal-sized portions in some plastic containers and pop them in the freezer. Whenever you need a meal, just take a container out and microwave it.
Second, it’s important to understand exactly what you may or may not be getting from your meal plan.
Many schools have different types of meals plans—if you plan on buying one, make sure that it fits your needs. You can usually find a variety of three-meal and two-meal-per-day plans at any school; however, your schedule may not match up with the hours of the cafeteria (especially at a smaller school where the hours may be more limited).
If the meal plan just doesn’t look like it’s going to work out, think about making your own food.
Lastly, it’s important to consider the cost of buying a meal plan.
This can also vary greatly between schools. Some colleges’ meals plans are very affordable, while others can be quite expensive. While it’s difficult to estimate how much you’ll spend on food if you make your own, you can try to make a rough guess and see if it will save you money (it’s fairly likely that it will). You can then decide whether saving money or saving time is more important to you.
Like many things, deciding if you should buy a meal plan is a personal decision that requires some thought. Think about the above three things, do some research, and you should be able to make a well-informed decision. Asking upper classmen is a good way to get information about your school’s meal plans and whether or not they’re a good deal.