College Meal Plans 101

There are many aspects of college that can be overwhelming: homework, social activities, final exams, finances, personal relationships, and the like. Add managing a college meal plan to that list and the fear of running out of weekly meals and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Don’t worry though, college meal plans are not as confusing and daunting as they seem. We’ve got you covered on all things meal plan related and will set you up for success with your meal plan and how to eat healthy using it (yes – it is possible).


First, here are a few things you should keep in mind about meal plans.

  • ● Meal plans are available to all students.
  • ● Some college meal plans are optional for students who dorm (mandatory for freshman).
  • ● You may not need the most robust meal plan. Think about your eating habits and research the different plans offered.
  • ● Know what on-campus dining halls and cafés accept meal plans and what their hours are. Make sure you make an effort to fit eating right into your schedule.
  • ● Find out if any off-campus businesses accept meal plans.

Once you mastered the meal plan and level that’s appropriate for you, it’s time to eat! Dining halls offer a plethora of foods and desserts to bite into. Be cautious though because not all options will be healthy for you. And just because you have access to the foods of your choosing doesn’t mean you should eat everything in the cafeteria all in one sitting or make a food pyramid of pizza slices and hamburgers.

Eating on a college meal plan may mean you’re forced to eat at certain places at certain times, but it doesn’t mean you can’t choose what you’re eating. Dining halls provide students with an abundance of choices. Like your mother always told you, “make sure you eat your vegetables” and be sure to choose your meals with the appropriate portions of proteins, carbohydrates and yes, even desserts when you really want them (you deserve it).They key to eating healthy on a meal plan is making the best choices from what options you have and limiting the unhealthy options.

The first step to eating healthy is to eat breakfast. There is a reason that breakfast is called the most important meal of the day. It gives your body fuel to jump-start your metabolism and to help you function in the early mornings when you’re in class. You should aim to eat something that will provide lasting energy and that’s a little more nutritious than sugar-frosted cereal. Here are some things to keep in mind when eating breakfast:

  • Eating complex (not refined!) carbohydrates (pancakes, whole grain breads, cereals etc.) keeps you charged and give you energy for your early morning classes.
  • Skipping breakfast is strongly linked to the development of obesity and can make weight control more difficult (
  • For a well-balanced and nutritious breakfast include fruits, fiber (oatmeal, muffins, bread etc.), and protein (yogurt, eggs, milk, bacon, sausage etc.).
  • ● Know the hours of your dining hall. Most dining halls are open by 7am and also have hours to suit students with evening classes.
  • Can’t make it to the dining hall? Have some snacks or easy meal options on hand. Celery and peanut butter, peanut butter and jelly, and healthy microwaveable meals low in sodium and saturated fats are a few great options.

Have you become tired of your dining hall and trying to find ways to save up your remaining meals? The best kitchen utility a college student has at their disposal is a microwave. Yes, a lot of healthy foods are available to make in the microwave (not limited to just mini pizzas and frozen burritos). Better options include:

  • ● Eggs (yes, you can make scrambled eggs in the microwave)
  • Frozen steamer bags of vegetables
  • Frozen chicken breasts
  • Frozen blueberries and other fruits
  • Oatmeal
  • Baked potatoes
  • Rice

Have something you do differently with your microwave in your dorm or have any healthy eating techniques while living on a college meal plan? We’d love to hear your story in the comments below!

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