Something Isn't Adding Up: How to Make the Most of Your AU Meal Plan

Something Isn't Adding Up: How to Make the Most of Your AU Meal Plan

When we’re always paying for our next meal or snack with a quick swipe of an ID card, it can become difficult to remember that we’re paying with real, actual money, not just a piece of plastic with some credits attached to it.

American University’s meal plan is comprised of three components: meal swipes, Eagle Bucks, and Dining Dollars. The most basic meal plan that all freshmen are required to purchase encompasses 175 meal swipes per semester, or approximately 10-11 meals per week during a 15 week semester, according to AU’s One Card & Dining Services website. 

So here's the approximate breakdown:  

  • $2,442 per semester for the total 175 meal plan ($4,884 a year)
  • $2,002 in meal swipe "money" (once we subtract $400 for Dining Dollars & Eagle Bucks)
  • $133.47 per week 
  • $19.07 per day

Typically, when a student uses a meal swipe for a dinner or lunch entree (or a Subway sandwich at 11 pm,) the total comes out to around $11 dollars. Depending on where you go to get your food, that’s a little less than 2 meals a day.

Here’s the thing: online, we can see exactly how many Dining Dollars and Eagle Bucks we are using; however, meal swipes do not have the same monetary equation. This makes it really easy to get into the habit of using meal swipes anywhere we can because it's more difficult to associate the plan with "real" money. And if you want to gorge yourself on pumpkin spice lattes before they go out of season, you may forget about meal swipes all together, leading to a December of nothing but Subway in an effort to burn through them.

Let's take a look at Einstein Bros Bagels: Located on the first floor of the Mary Graydon Center, Einstein’s is an accessible and appetizing breakfast option that I tend to indulge in before my 11:20 am classes. You can easily get your breakfast done with one meal swipe - seems perfect, right? 

Except a bagel and a coffee at Einstein’s costs $4.65 in total, which is less than half of what a meal as Freshii or Global Fresh costs. Students use 4-5 meal swipes at Einstein’s before they hit the equivalent of using 2 meal swipes at Freshii, where the food is more expensive. You aren't getting as much of out your meal swipes as you could be, or even should be, given how much students have to pay for them.


What does this mean for students? How should we be handling the finances of food?


First things first: Make sure you’re keeping up to date with your online Eagle Bucks account. Sign in to keep track of your remaining balances so you can budget as effectively as possible and be aware of your regular expenses.

Secondly: Try using your meal swipes somewhere that you might get a better deal for them. Here are a few options students have that can allow them to make the most of their swipes:

  • Breakfast at TDR: If you go to TDR for breakfast in the morning, you can get a bagel, fruit, and coffee, as well as any other snacks or breakfast items you might want to try, and you won't have to wait with a whole group of students for your order to be prepared. This can be a good option for someone who has class during regular lunch hours and wants to make up for missing lunch by filling up on a big breakfast.
  • Fruit: Using a meal swipe at retailers like Freshii or the P.O.D will get students some kind of fruit with their meal. If you don't feel like eating any fruit in the moment, take a piece anyway; you can keep it in your dorm for whenever you're bored and looking for a snack.
  • Try Global Fresh: Even when you're not sure if you'll like the type of food Global Fresh is serving during a particular week, it can't hurt to be adventurous, especially when you usually get a few sides with your entree. This can be nice if you're looking for more of a somewhat-balanced meal (plain vegetables can quickly become a scarce option when you're always eating on campus), as well as something that breaks the monotony of always eating the same entrees everywhere else.

At the end of the day, whenever you're trying to decide what to do for your next meal, just remember this: you can use your meal swipes to get out of paying $13 for a meal, and if you go the right places, you can totally get your money's worth. Stay conscientious of your finances, and you can play the system to your advantage while still splurging on those lattes this fall!