Opinion: I’m wasting $900 with my meal plan. You could be too.
After changes to AU Dining policies, student meal plans are increasingly inflexible
This semester brought institutional changes to the University’s meal plan program. Specifically, independent food vendors on campus, such as Megabytes and the Mudbox cafe among others, no longer accept Dining Dollars and can only accept EagleBucks.
Students now have to spend the Dining Dollars they previously would have spent at Megabytes or the Mudbox at Aramark locations or the AU Pod Markets. In addition, they may also feel less inclined to spend EagleBucks on campus food from independent vendors, seeing as EagleBucks can be spent off-campus as well as on non-food items.
Aramark is AU's dining services contractor, and operates establishments such as Freshii, Einsteins, Global Fresh, Elevation Burger and Pi and Fry. Additionally, new advertising posters at these Aramark locations promote that they are aiming to provide “A Meal Plan that fits your lifestyle.”
The reality is that nothing is more flexible to an AU student’s hectic lifestyle than actual cash. Sometimes, we’ve been in the library for hours and just need a muffin. Other times, we’ve eaten Subway for the past 3 days and would really love a nice warm chicken panini from Megabytes. After I heard about this change, I started to feel like I was using my meal swipes to get food that I didn’t really want or paying for parts of a meal I didn’t get, like fresh fruit or a fountain drink. I wondered if I would be better off abandoning my meal plan altogether and budgeting my food spending. I decided to investigate what do I eat in a typical week, what it would cost for the semester and if the cost is more or less than I pay for my meal plan.
Thankfully, I’m a creature of habit, so every weekday morning starts with Einstein’s: a sesame bagel with cream cheese and a fountain soda cup for iced black tea. The total comes out to $4.69. Later in the day, I like to go to Freshii for lunch where my two go-to options are a fiesta salad, which rings in at $7.79, and a market salad (without a protein) for $8.49.
For dinner, there are a few options: two slices of pizza with toppings is $5.98, chicken tenders and fries are $8.99, and a six-inch chicken sub and a fountain soda from Subway is $7.37. Let’s assume that during any average week, I eat pizza for dinner two days a week, chicken tenders and fries two days a week and Subway only once a week. Based off of that, we can conclude that I’m slowly dying.
On a serious note, assuming I eat these three meals a day, it would cost me $99.71 a week out-of-pocket. Multiply the cost per week by the roughly 15 weeks in the semester and my cost for food per semester is about $1,310.35.
Here’s the part where I realized I am an idiot.
I have a 225 meal block plan, which means I pay $2,806 a semester to eat sad bagels and sad pizza. Even when you consider that $400 out of that price technically just gets put into your account as EagleBucks and Dining Dollars, that’s still $910.35 that I am just giving the school while also guilting myself into ordering food I don’t really want in order to use up those meal swipes. That $910.35 is what I pay to have the ability, nay the privilege, to use meal swipes.
For some people, I realize that meal swipes are very convenient. And if you like a lot of the dining options on campus, then meal swipes give you all that and a bag of chips, literally. But if you’re a penny pincher, or you don’t always need a fountain drink with your meal, and especially if you feel confident you could just make better meals yourself, then you may want to take another look at your meal plan.
As students, money can be tight, and I imagine that for many people an additional $910.35 could be spent a lot better, and a lot smarter, than on such a inflexible arrangement.
Grace Guber is a sophomore in the School of International Service. They are an outside contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Eagle and its staff.