As college students, we’re lucky to have access to the dining halls. After college, when will you ever have access to all you can eat buffets every day until midnight? If you think your meal plan is too big, start using it more. You can swipe into the dining hall to grab a quick snack and a coffee, or stop by the campus center for a pick-me-up between classes. The variety of food on campus is much bigger than what we can afford at the grocery store, so we might as well take advantage of it while we can!

So, how can you take advantage of your meal plan?

1. Try the special foods! The dining halls are always having special events with guest chefs from around the world. Many of the chefs have interesting stories and will prepare food that is hard to find anywhere else. Events like these are when you really get the most bang for your buck; world-class chefs preparing your food, for just a swipe! 

2. Fill up on fruits and veggies! Fresh produce is pricey. While you’re at the dining hall, eat the expensive foods that you wouldn’t normally buy at the grocery store. This will allow you to get all of the variety needed for a healthy diet. On your way out, grab a piece of fruit to have a healthy snack for later.

3. Have snacks all the time. Most people have swipes left at the end of the semester, so why not use them? Even if you just run into the dining hall for a cup of coffee and a muffin, that’s better than wasting the entire swipe! Using your extra swipes is also more cost effective than spending cash elsewhere.

4. Submit feedback! If there’s something you don’t like about the food or the dining halls, let someone know. Feedback is always needed, and chances are, if you have an opinion about something, so does someone else. From experience, I know that the managers really do listen to feedback, so your suggestions will be taken seriously.

5. If you’re overwhelmed by all of the options, make sure you see everything before you pick up a plate. Walk around the dining hall a few times before you settle on what you want. You can also go to www.umassdining.com before you eat to see exactly what they are serving. Having a plan of what you want to eat will make things less stressful in the hectic dining halls.

6. Special dietary restrictions? Don’t aimlessly wander around the dining hall. UMass Dining has a Registered Dietitian who can help. If you’re having trouble finding foods you can eat, call the UMass Dining office to make a free appointment with the dietitian. With her help, you can create customized meals that will accommodate your needs. The chefs can even prepare special meals to fit your dietary restrictions.

Taking advantage of your meal plan is an important part of saving money in college. Since on-campus students are required to have a meal plan, knowing how to use it efficiently is really important. Properly using your meal plan means spending less money on groceries and wasting less money in restaurants.