College meal plans - save money and eat well

Feeding hungry college students is big business on college campuses. Whether you are living on or off campus, you will probably want to use a meal plan for some of your daily needs. Most freshman on campus have a limited group of choices which usually require them to use a 10-14 meals/week plan or an unlimited plan. But upper class students have many more options and you really need to review your choices to see which ones fit your eating habits and needs the best. Not to mention how they affect your bank balance.

They say the freshman plans are designed for nutritional reasons, but these plans are usually the most expensive too. So this always makes me wonder if they are really for the benefit of the student, or more for the school. I have found that my five children, three daughters and two sons, easily found ways to save on their meal plans once they had a full array of choices available to them.

But if you have one of these comprehensive plans, make sure that you do not let any of your meals expire unused. Most of these college plans reset on a weekly basis, so if you don't use them that week, you lose them for good. If you get close to the end of your week and still have unused meals, use them to buy Gatorade, yogurt or other snacks that you can store in your room or refrigerator for later, but try not to let them expire.

Some of the newer dorm rooms at many colleges have small kitchens so that you can do light cooking in an effort to reduce your meal costs and prepare a healthier, more customized menu. These dorms usually have a waiting list to get in and are offered to upper class students first, so you may have to wait until your later years in college for this option.

Another way to save on your college meal cost is to avoid the daily $5 smoothie or $4 "frappacino" habit. These drinks can add a big price tag to your monthly meal costs. Try to save these for special days, after a big exam or limit them to once a week.

Having a small Tupperware or Gladware re-usable container in your backpack can be a great way to save money and take a "doggie bag" back to the dorms for later. Most of the college all-you-can-eat buffet style dining halls allow you to eat as much as you want, but if you can't finish your selections, most students throw away the remaining portion. What a waste!

These small containers can be filled with the second half of that deli sandwich, extra slice of pizza or the rest of that fresh salad with grilled chicken. I have actually heard of some students deliberately taking more than they can finish just to have a late night meal or snack without the cost. This can easily save a whole meal per day and upwards $50 to $75 each week.

Another way to save is to stock up on your favorite healthy snacks and keep a good supply in your room. You can usually buy them in bulk at a warehouse club or grocery store and save the price you would pay at the college convenience stores or the vending machines. Having a supply of small zip lock bags can be useful to mix a batch of your favorite snacks into single serving sizes and have them ready to go when you need them in a hurry... which is most of the time.

There are dozens of other strategies that can save hundreds, even thousands of dollars on your meal expenses. If you would like to explore more of these opportunities and find additional strategies for reducing college costs or maximizing financial aid, just click here to download your FREE College Cost Savings Kit. For the most detailed information, please take a look at our newbook, "How To Get Your College Education For Less". Details below.

About the Author: Keith Maderer is the father of five college age students and has been a financial, investment and tax adviser in the Western New York area since 1981. He is the author of "How To Get Your College Education For Less". Available on - ISBN No: 978-1-4538-2053-7

To get your FREE College Cost Savings Kit, visit

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