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How to Make the Most of Your Meal Plan

It’s time for freshman move-in day, which means lots of time eating on campus!  Now, as a freshman, I made my fair share of mistakes when it came to my meal plan, but I’ve learned and I’m going to share some of my sage advice with all of you!  Freshies especially, I don’t want you to end up with no meals and an empty wallet at the end of the semester, so listen up.

1. Pick your meal plan wisely

KU offers several different meal plans to choose from.  Depending on how often you eat and how often you’ll be in the dorms, certain meal plans suit certain people.  If you’re going back home on weekends or simply don’t eat a lot of meals, then go for the Blue Basic (10 meals a week) or Crimson Flex (200 meals per semester) meal plan.  If you know you’re going to eat most of your meals at the dorm or you’re simply unsure, you’re better off with the Jayhawk Unlimited meal plan (unlimited meals), which is the cheaper of the 2 unlimited meal plans.  In addition to providing your standard dining hall meals, each meal plan also gives a set amount of Cuisine Cash, which you can use for most dining locations on campus.  The more expensive the meal plan, the more Cuisine Cash you get.  However, the Campanile plan, which is for Jayhawker Towers residents only, gives you $500 worth of Cuisine Cash.

If you’ve already picked your meal plan, don’t fret, because you can change your meal plan!  Just email the Department of Student Housing (housing@ku.edu) with your name, KU ID number, and what meal plan you want. The deadline for the fall semester is September 5 by 5 PM, so if you want to change your meal plan, get on it ASAP!


2. Avoid nasty food and food poisoning

Now, I’m pretty sure most of you may have heard horror stories about bad dining hall food.  Unfortunately, there are some cases where this is true. I’ve also had friends who have gotten sick from especially nasty food, and, trust me, you want to avoid that.  I don’t know about the rest of you, but I like to enjoy what I’m eating and I want my food to taste decent at the very least.  And if you’re like me, who’s on a limited meal plan and wants to get the most bang out of her buck, then you don’t want to waste a precious meal on sub-par food.  Here are a few tips on how to make the most of dining hall food:

  • Salad and pizza are always there when everything else looks nasty.  

  • If you’re getting salad, feel free to experiment!  There’s plenty of dressings and toppings to choose from.  Plus, if there’s chicken fingers or any meat entree available, you can slice it up and add it to the salad!

  • Look for weird colors or spots that are on the food (i.e. gray spots on scrambled eggs).  Also, feel free to poke the food with the serving utensil provided.  If something that’s usually crispy or firm feels squishy or vice versa, don’t go for it.  Same applies for sauces and soups: if it’s too thick or watery, avoid it.

  • From my experience, chicken fingers, country fried steak, chicken cordon bleu and crab rangoons are some of the best specials offered by KU Dining.

  • Feel free to play mad scientist and mix cereals.  Or pretend you’re a bartender and mix sodas.  For dessert, make a float by filling a cup halfway with vanilla soft-serve and then the rest with root beer/Coke/Fanta/whatever.

  • Try to get to the dining hall early-ish. For example, dinner is typically served from 5-7 PM, so arriving any time before 6 would be best. Why? The cooks aren’t constantly churning out food, so the later it gets, the less food there is available for you to choose from.

3. Don’t pig out.

While you want to make the most out of your meal plan, you also don’t want to be eating ridiculous amounts of food.  Yes, the Freshman 15 is a real thing.  You may not gain exactly 15, but you will gain weight if you’re not careful.  All the trips in the world to the rec center won’t matter if you’re constantly shoveling fries and burgers and whatnot in your mouth.  While every now and then I believe you should treat yourself, you still shouldn’t get totally carried away.

Make sure that you’re watching your portion sizes and try to avoid eating more than two plates’ worth of food (including dessert).  I don’t care if that tray full of chicken fingers is calling your name, don’t make a mountain on your plate.  Also, try to get a small side salad with your meal; not only is it a good way to get your daily serving of veggies, but it’ll also cut down the amount of not-as-healthy stuff you eat.  For dessert, eat some fruit.  If you go for frozen yogurt or whatever pastry is available, keep the serving size small.

4. Look up what’s available online

If there’s one cool thing that KU Dining does, it’s that it posts the daily menus for all the dining halls online.  All it requires is a quick Google search: just type in “KU,” followed by the name of the dining hall and “menu.”  I strongly suggest that you do this every day.  Why?  Sometimes, the dining halls may have very few offerings (especially on weekends and during Fall Break), and said offerings may be super nasty.  If that’s the case, it’s not worth wasting a precious meal on a piss-poor excuse for food.  So what options do you have?  If you live in Oliver, the O’Zone is open from 7-11 PM.  If you’re on Daisy Hill, The Studio and Pulse are open at Hashinger.  All of these places accept Cuisine Cash, so you don’t have to empty your bank account (unless you ran out of Cuisine Cash).  Otherwise, drive/walk/bike/skateboard/etc. to a nearby restaurant or order delivery.  For cheap and delicious delivery, I recommend Pizza Shuttle and Pickleman’s.  If you’re willing to spend a little more on delivery and want something different, get Ramen Bowls.  When ordering delivery, use coupons or order through websites like OrderUp.com to get special discounts.  As for restaurants, I’m going to review a whole bunch of them throughout this year, but my personal faves off the top of my head are: Encore Cafe, Chipotle, Ramen Bowls, Burger Stand, O Cafe, and Zen Zero. (Hint: the Chipotle on Mass St. accepts Cuisine Cash. You’re welcome.)

5. Don’t go crazy with the Cuisine Cash

Hey, your parents are already forking over a lot of money for you to go to KU and not die of starvation, so use that Cuisine Cash wisely.  If you don’t pay attention and keep spending it daily at the Underground or the Market, it’s gonna be gone by the third week of the semester.  Use it only in emergencies (i.e. especially nasty food) or once a week when you don’t have enough time to go back to the dorm for lunch between classes.  If you can, grab a to-go meal from your dining hall in the morning before you head to classes.  Otherwise, when you’re spending your Cuisine Cash, try not to eat purely Chick-Fil-A or Panda Express.  They’re delicious and tempting options, I know.  (True story: I spent a little over $100 at Chick-Fil-A last semester. #somuchshame)  However, try to limit such options to a rare treat, like 2-3 times a semester.  Instead, go for some healthier options.  For example, besides the amazingly yummy Crunchy Cheddar Chicken Wrap, Brellas has other healthy and delicious options.  Also, Cafe Spice at the Underground offers Indian food combos for decent prices.  Sushi with Gusto is also good, so long as you stick with the rolls and avoid the nigiri (which is pretty expensive).  

You should bring a reusable water bottle as well.  There are plenty of locations on campus where you can fill up your water bottle for free.  It’s much cheaper than buying bottles of water every time with your meal, which will add up the more you buy.

Well, that’s all the advice that I’ve got to give!  Hopefully you use your meal plan wisely and spend your money wisely!

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