Gates: Make the most of your meal plans


Matt Gates, Columnist

During my first week at Northwestern, my peer adviser tried to explain to a group of confused new Wildcats how the meal plans work at Northwestern: when and where to spend our board meals, our equivalency meals, our points and so on. During my first quarter, I have mastered NU’s meal plans. Everyone knows any college student’s first concern is free (or already paid for) food. However, I’ve noticed many students pass up some of the food offered by their meal plans. By planning and spending at the right times, NU students can get the most out of their meal plans.

Most students spend their equivalency meals, but not all of these meals are created equal. Because equivalency meals are worth the most at dinner time, it is best to try and use your meals between 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Because most students have access to a fridge in their dorms, there is no reason not to spend your equivalency meals at dinner and, if need be, refrigerate any items you buy. Additionally, because a meal must be used all at once, it is best to get as close to the $9 as possible. Personally, I add a 99 cent cheese stick or two to my purchases to help reach the $9 mark. Done correctly, a student with a plan that comes with three equivalency meals per week can get $27 worth of C-store food a week.

But, as you rush to make the most of your two or three equivalency meals, don’t forget your dining hall meals. I space my two meals a day out across the week. But if you know you are eating out Saturday night, you should be sure to use up that meal if desired. Even if you don’t want a full meal, most dining halls let you take out one fruit with each meal. For someone on the Weekly 14 meal plan who eats a piece of fruit with every meal and takes one to go, that’s 28 bananas a week. Who doesn’t want a banana to eat on their walk to Tech each morning?

Then there are the guest passes that come with the Weekly 14 plan. If you have guests that come to visit, that is any easy way to use these meals. But, if you finish your 14 board meals in a week, you can actually use these guest passes on yourself. This is any easy fix if you run out of meals one week or just want a couple extra pieces of fruit.

Finally, as the quarter comes to an end, there’s the issue of points. The Weekly 14 plan comes with 34 each quarter, while the Unlimited plan comes with 50. Be sure to space your points out throughout the quarter in order to avoid having them all left at the end of the quarter. Now, if you do have to use up your meals as the quarter comes to an end, my best advice is to spend them on nonperishables. Buying $34 worth of packaged snack foods may seem extreme, but the three-week break provides plenty of time to finish it all.

So remember to spend those equivalency meals, use those guest passes and spend those points. You or your parents have already paid for a quarter’s worth of food, so why not eat it? Food might not make the college experience, but it’s certainly a nice perk.

Matt Gates is a Weinberg freshman. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].