College dining budget

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Looking for thoughts, experiences, etc. regarding setting a food budget for an undergrad living on-campus. In addition to being cheap, I am also long in the tooth, and college dining options have changed radically since my time.

At the particular university of concern to me, the cheapest dining option for resident first-year students is around $3400 per semester.  This plan is described as being for "light to moderate eaters;" it provides for a total of 12 meals per week (5 breakfast, 7 dinner), plus an amount of points (worth approx. $400) to used in (overpriced) a la carte venues on campus.

A budget of $35+ per day seems ridiculous to me, but it just seems to be accepted (can you say "monopolistic pricing"?) Any FWF advice on how to get a student to economize, with coming across as a total jerk?

P.S. For those like me, who haven't been on campus for a while: Recent review of 80 best colleges for food (slideshow w/ captions): http://www.thedailymeal.com/travel/80-best-colleges-food-america... 

ETA:  "Duke’s new dining emporium is a paradise for foodies" http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/education/article99396052... 

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When I was in school that plan didn't kick in until your Sophomore year, when a meal plan was no longer required!  I ass... (more)

brooke789 (Sep. 21, 2016 @ 8:40a) |

Go Jackets?  I just checked their meal plans and they are exactly this....

elektronic (Sep. 21, 2016 @ 2:35p) |

Yes, that is correct.  I should amend my statement to omit room and board, so the tuition costs over $50K, so after a fo... (more)

fedguy (Sep. 21, 2016 @ 5:49p) |

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It's a racket, but for a student living on campus, what choice do you have?  Buy the cheapest plan, and talk to her about using the meal swipes for her biggest meals.  Then use the points in the campus convenience stores to buy boxes of cereal or cans of soup or whatever she might eat for her smaller meals in the residence hall.  Don't waste a meal swipe on a bowl of lucky charms, and don't use the points for a daily starbucks.

I'm guessing you HAVE to get the meal plan.

College meal plans are a ripoff and have been for years. My advice? Move off campus as soon as it's feasible and you have the financial means to do so. Until then, get the cheapest meal plan required and buy your own food to supplement.

When you do eat at the facilities, get as much as you can. You're paying for it.

Good luck. Make some time to workout as well. College cafe food is usually crap food anyway so you'll want to work it off.

1) how much more is an "unlimited" plan (or a plan sufficient to cover all meals)?
(I remember the per-meal cost of the light/moderate plans being pretty crazy compared to a plan where you'd eat there 3-meals-a-day, 7-days-a-week)

2) how convenient are the dining halls to where the student will be at different times of day?

3) do you have the resolve to tell the student they're not getting extra cash for other dining options when they decide they don't want what the dining hall offers?


I suspect there is a compromise between the cheapest plan, and the unlimited plan, that offers a more reasonable per-meal price if they lean toward lunches and suppers, and use it regularly.

(I agree that $35/day seems crazy, I recall the plans at my college working out to more like $7/meal)

[quote]
A budget of $35+ per day seems ridiculous to me, but it just seems to be accepted (can you say "monopolistic pricing"?)
Well it's not any different than stadiums and concerts not allowing outside food and jacking up their concession s.

we could probably control costs easier if we abolished on-campus housing and food, euro style.

Holy crap. I used to bitch and complain when the cheapest meal plan I could buy was $495/semester. That was less than 20 years ago.

10-20% of the budget is probably for latte's

Is the school in a city with any nearby food options? Anything they can eat/prepare in their rooms?

tuphat said:   Looking for thoughts, experiences, etc. regarding setting a food budget for an undergrad living on-campus. In addition to being cheap, I am also long in the tooth, and college dining options have changed radically since my time.

At the particular university of concern to me, the cheapest dining option for resident first-year students is around $3400 per semester.  This plan is described as being for "light to moderate eaters;" it provides for a total of 12 meals per week (5 breakfast, 7 dinner), plus an amount of points (worth approx. $400) to used in (overpriced) a la carte venues on campus.

A budget of $35+ per day seems ridiculous to me, but it just seems to be accepted (can you say "monopolistic pricing"?) Any FWF advice on how to get a student to economize, with coming across as a total jerk?

P.S. For those like me, who haven't been on campus for a while: Recent review of 80 best colleges for food (slideshow w/ captions): http://www.thedailymeal.com/travel/80-best-colleges-food-america...

  Wow, that seems like a lot.  Checked my alma mater, and the 21 meal plan is a touch less than that. It's mandatory for any student living on campus.

Some things to consider.

1) Does the college allow you to opt-out entirely? I did this and lived on campus my junior and senior years.

2) What is the cash price of the meals? Believe it or not, the cash price for breakfast back in the day was actually less than the average meal price under all of the meal plans. The only time it made sense to use the meal plan for breakfast was when it would have otherwise gone wasted.

3) If you know any students currently at the school, ask their advice. Nearly every freshman had a meal plan they didn't use, and -- luckily for me -- they were willing to feed people like me after our club sports practice on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights. Even when they scaled their plans back in the spring, they still had unused meals -- which meant more free meals.

4) Are there ways to game the meal plan? At my school they didn't kick you out until they closed at the end of the day, and there were quiet nooks where you could read or study in the late morning or mid-to-late afternoon. That made it easy to pay for breakfast and eat lunch an hour later. Or get an unlimited number of refills of coffee. I think one day I had no classes and a lot of reading to do, so I spent 7-8 hours in the dining hall -- enjoying two meals for the price of one.

5) Finally, what other options are there? Are the a la carte options on campus, and convenient lunch options off campus, reasonably priced? At my school, you can still get a $2.99 veggie burrito with chips and salsa.

Those dining halls where you pay to get in and eat whatever you want would drive me insane. Where I did my undergrad, every eatery was a la carte, and the advantage of a meal plan was avoiding sales tax. Paying cash for all the items was the same price, but all prepared foods (the vast majority of everything being sold) was taxed.

Then for grad school, there was one large dining hall that I never used, in part because I didn't stay on campus for more than a couple hours before or after my classes, and in part because there were several other eateries where I could pay a la carte for each individual item.

TravelerMSY said:   we could probably control costs easier if we abolished on-campus housing and food, euro style.
  How do you propose doing that for private colleges?

Do they really restrict uses to 5 breakfasts and 7 dinners, rather than 12 meals?  So if you are not a morning person and don't get up in time for breakfast, your per-meal cost doubles since you are at most using half of what you are buying?

At least in the old days (20 years ago), cereal was available all day, so with a Tupperware container and water bottle for milk you could walk out of dinner with the next morning's breakfast.


the only option
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stanolshefski said:   
5) Finally, what other options are there? 

  is OP going to tell us what university this is so we can check out the meal plans for ourselves? its not like we're going to go there and harass op's DD/DS

I've toured about 20 campuses in the past year or so.  Every school and plan is a little different, so Stan's questions above are great to ask.  A few thoughts based on my experiences:

  • Most campuses require freshmen to live on campus and require the purchase of a meal plan.
  • Most are swipe in, all you can eat, arrangements, and most don't appear to kick you out, unless they are the smaller dining halls on larger campuses that are only open during part of the day (breakfast and lunch only for example).
  • There are often no ala carte options in the main dining halls, and the pay as you go was only for guests, so I don't think you could do that very often without being recognized.  At several campuses, I remember them having NO guest/cash options, and a couple of places had to call a manager to come up front and swipe us in as a guest; the students working there were not able to do so.
  • Most places, your meal card is your student ID - one per customer - so I don't think you could swipe your buddies in if you had leftover meals.

I will admit that the food across most campuses these days is really good - lots of options and high quality.

dcwilbur said:   I've toured about 20 campuses in the past year or so.  Every school and plan is a little different, ...
  
Just curious:   Were those private or public or a mix?
 

Mix.  Most of what I described would be the larger state schools though.

dcwilbur said:   

  • Most are swipe in, all you can eat, arrangements, and most don't appear to kick you out, unless they are the smaller dining halls on larger campuses that are only open during part of the day (breakfast and lunch only for example).


  UIUC will kick you out between luncch and dinner. at least when i was there.

dcwilbur said:   
  • Most places, your meal card is your student ID - one per customer - so I don't think you could swipe your buddies in if you had leftover meals.


Ours was like that, the ID was the meal card. If you wanted to swipe for someone else, which happened frequently, they just swipe for as many people as you bring in.

In our all you can eat hall, there were certain things that were to go. For example you could eat a full lunch, then make a huge deli sandwich, a cup of soup and crackers for dinner. Swing by and grab some fruit and a piece of bread fir breakfast the next day.

My experience was that the 12-14 meal plan was best. I never used it for breakfast except for weekend brunch.

dcwilbur said:   I've toured about 20 campuses in the past year or so.  Every school and plan is a little different, so Stan's questions above are great to ask.  A few thoughts based on my experiences:

  • Most campuses require freshmen to live on campus and require the purchase of a meal plan.
  • Most are swipe in, all you can eat, arrangements, and most don't appear to kick you out, unless they are the smaller dining halls on larger campuses that are only open during part of the day (breakfast and lunch only for example).
  • There are often no ala carte options in the main dining halls, and the pay as you go was only for guests, so I don't think you could do that very often without being recognized.  At several campuses, I remember them having NO guest/cash options, and a couple of places had to call a manager to come up front and swipe us in as a guest; the students working there were not able to do so.
  • Most places, your meal card is your student ID - one per customer - so I don't think you could swipe your buddies in if you had leftover meals.

I will admit that the food across most campuses these days is really good - lots of options and high quality.

  Swiping in is usually restricted to block plans (i.e. 175 meals/semester). Though, I was looking at a number of college meal plans this week and many of them included a certain number of guest meals with every plan.

ETA I looked at meal plans from 35 colleges in one state, and they ranged from $2,913 - $7,260 per year. State schools were much more likely to have less expensive meal plans.

Infinion said:   
dcwilbur said:   

  • Most places, your meal card is your student ID - one per customer - so I don't think you could swipe your buddies in if you had leftover meals.



Ours was like that, the ID was the meal card. If you wanted to swipe for someone else, which happened frequently, they just swipe for as many people as you bring in.

In our all you can eat hall, there were certain things that were to go. For example you could eat a full lunch, then make a huge deli sandwich, a cup of soup and crackers for dinner. Swing by and grab some fruit and a piece of bread fir breakfast the next day.

My experience was that the 12-14 meal plan was best. I never used it for breakfast except for weekend brunch.

  Most schools charge weekend brunch at the lunch rate -- if there's a cash price.

My college charged a 10% premium for cash payments (their way to encourage students to buy larger meal plans). So the poor kids who were forced to live on campus with meal plans would just sell their plans to those who had to eat on campus without a meal plan.

Those prices are high.
Here's the school I went to: https://udel.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.asp... It looks like Aramark does Delaware's food. Spot checking other Aramark schools, there's even cheaper ones. Here's University of New Orleans for example http://uno.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?...

taylor0987 said:   Those prices are high.
Here's the school I went to: https://udel.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?category=Students_Required_to_Buy_6804&lid=6804&root=Meal_Plan. It looks like Aramark does Delaware's food. Spot checking other Aramark schools, there's even cheaper ones. Here's University of New Orleans for example http://uno.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?...

  There are different categories of food service. Until recently, Johns Hopkins selected the same plan that the prison system did. So when students complained that the food tasted like prison food, they were right.

   

ryeny3 said:   
Until recently, Johns Hopkins selected the same plan that the prison system did. So when students complained that the food tasted like prison food, they were right.

   

  

Geez, hadn't looked at or thought about meal plans in years. (Been quite a while since I wasn't off campus.) Looking at the 7 day plans at where I did grad school, its twice as high as where I did undergrad (and they now offer 20 restaurants, plus off-campus meal exchange.) Its another way to rob the parents, apparently.

Good luck, OP, you are going to need it.

$3,400 is an absurd rate. Google popular universities and you will see much less expensive - http://dining.umich.edu/meal-plans-rates/off-campus-and-apartmen... Many students like unlimited plans - I know both of mine would eat dinner at 5 and then go back after 7 and eat again... Most plans now include lots of non-dining hall options.

Make your student a deal. Pay them $20/day and they take care of themselves.

ryeny3 said:   
taylor0987 said:   Those prices are high.
Here's the school I went to: https://udel.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?category=Students_Required_to_Buy_6804&lid=6804&root=Meal_Plan. It looks like Aramark does Delaware's food. Spot checking other Aramark schools, there's even cheaper ones. Here's University of New Orleans for example http://uno.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?...

  There are different categories of food service. Until recently, Johns Hopkins selected the same plan that the prison system did. So when students complained that the food tasted like prison food, they were right.

   

  

Yeah, back in my college days used about 6 meals per week because the food was that bad.

Of course, the college leeches make you pay for a minimum of 14 per week, and pay the sales tax in advance on all 14....And there's no 'points roll forward' or anything like that.

Rooming is even worse. For me a 2 BR/2 Bath apartment was about $500 per month cheaper than a dorm room where you have a roommate and a bathroom shared among 4 people.

The college admins and caterers are pulling a fast one on the 'safe spacers'.

I had a friend who successfully petitioned to not have the meal plan. He probably cited dietary restrictions but I don't know.

Krazen1211 said:   
ryeny3 said:   
taylor0987 said:   Those prices are high.
Here's the school I went to: https://udel.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?category=Students_Required_to_Buy_6804&lid=6804&root=Meal_Plan. It looks like Aramark does Delaware's food. Spot checking other Aramark schools, there's even cheaper ones. Here's University of New Orleans for example http://uno.campusdish.com/Commerce/Catalog/ShopSubCategory.aspx?...

  There are different categories of food service. Until recently, Johns Hopkins selected the same plan that the prison system did. So when students complained that the food tasted like prison food, they were right.

   

  

Yeah, back in my college days used about 6 meals per week because the food was that bad.

Of course, the college leeches make you pay for a minimum of 14 per week, and pay the sales tax in advance on all 14....And there's no 'points roll forward' or anything like that.

Rooming is even worse. For me a 2 BR/2 Bath apartment was about $500 per month cheaper than a dorm room where you have a roommate and a bathroom shared among 4 people.

The college admins and caterers are pulling a fast one on the 'safe spacers'.

Between undergrad and grad school, I believe I ate exactly one meal in a regular school cafeteria. Since it was a long time ago, I am not sure if I actually ate that one meal or if it is a recurring nightmare.

luvbugium said:   I had a friend who successfully petitioned to not have the meal plan. He probably cited dietary restrictions but I don't know.
  This makes sense. OP hasn't replied that the meal plan is mandatory, but if it is, what if your kid is heavily jewish and only eats kosher food, or indian and doesn't eat meat, or has major food allergies and needs a specific diet. Otherwise, why not pay as you go for lunch and dinner. Breakfast can be made and eaten in the room. 

Ask your student to google/social media options the past students have done to hack or survive? Having your student self prep,shop and cook may not be the option. Student will bond, network relationships that will last a life time. Another thought............the younger students are much more health conscious and many colleges have had to respond.

Ask your student to google/social media options the past students have done to hack or survive? Having your student self prep,shop and cook may not be the option. Student will bond, network relationships that will last a life time. Another thought............the younger students are much more health conscious and many colleges have had to respond compared to meals offered in my day :}

Thanks to all who responded with helpful insight. Providing following in the interest of full disclosure, hopefully won't cause quality of discussion to deteriorate.

Basic info re: plans:  https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dining/plans-and-points/plan-profiles
List of venues with onward links to menus and prices:  https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/forms/dining/menus-hours/

Notes:
+  Per website:  "Duke Dining is ranked 1st for The Daily Meal's "Best Colleges for Food in America" and has made the top 10 list for three years in a row!"
+ Freshmen: on-campus housing required, must also purchase one of two specific meal plans.
+ Only one "traditional" AYCE dining hall (Marketplace), located where most freshmen live.
+ Other facilities are a la carte. I know I am cheap, but menu prices seem high. Examples:
https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dining/venues-menus-hours/ginger-and-soy
https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dining/venues-menus-hours/skillet-0
+ All plans & point purchases attract 7.5% NC sales tax -- and a $50 "contract fee."  Grrrr ...

Do the prices shown include gratuity? Even it you take the food to go.

atikovi said:   Do the prices shown include gratuity? Even it you take the food to go.
  Apart from one sit-down venue, I think everything else is counter service.  No trays, of course, that's taboo these days ...

Then no tip jars at the counter?

tuphat said:   Thanks to all who responded with helpful insight. Providing following in the interest of full disclosure, hopefully won't cause quality of discussion to deteriorate.

Basic info re: plans:  https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dining/plans-and-points/plan-profiles 
List of venues with onward links to menus and prices:  https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/forms/dining/menus-hours/ 

Notes:
+  Per website:  "Duke Dining is ranked 1st for The Daily Meal's "Best Colleges for Food in America" and has made the top 10 list for three years in a row!"
+ Freshmen: on-campus housing required, must also purchase one of two specific meal plans.
+ Only one "traditional" AYCE dining hall (Marketplace), located where most freshmen live.
+ Other facilities are a la carte. I know I am cheap, but menu prices seem high. Examples:
https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dining/venues-menus-hours/ginger-and-soy 
https://studentaffairs.duke.edu/dining/venues-menus-hours/skillet-0 
+ All plans & point purchases attract 7.5% NC sales tax -- and a $50 "contract fee."  Grrrr ...

  Sorry. Durham and Chapel Hill (right of the Duke and UNC campuses) have one of the best, cheap burrito shops on the East Cost that I've ever been to -- Cosmic Cantina. You could eat like a king at the prices Duke charges:

http://cosmiccantina.com/menu/p8034 

With a Harris Teeter right off of East Campus, it'd be real easy to buy groceries too.

 

Skipping 93 Messages...
Mickie3 said:   
fedguy said:   Here is one university that is starting up a food pantry for starving students.  Annual tuition and room & board runs around $64K, so some do not have much left to spare for eating

Student food pantry to open

  


Doesn't room and board imply meals?

 

  Yes, that is correct.  I should amend my statement to omit room and board, so the tuition costs over $50K, so after a four year stint, the bill will be over $200K. 



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