To meal plan or not to meal plan
pizza on white ceramic plates
Photo by Cristiano Pinto on Unsplash

To meal plan or not to meal plan

Kitty Grant November 29, 2021

In the year leading up to starting uni it feels like there are a million decisions to make, even after you’ve chosen your course and university then comes decisions about accommodation. Would you rather live closer to campus or closer to the city? In a mixed or single-sex flat? Pay more for a bigger room or save on somewhere smaller? One of the biggest decisions though is whether to go for catered accommodation; to meal plan or not.

Different universities go about meal plans in different ways, some have specific dining areas for people on meal plans, while others give you a pre-paid card that you can use anywhere on campus. It’s worth looking at the specifics of the meal plans at your university before making any decisions, but here are a few of the pros and cons of meal plans to think about while making your decision:


  • Meal plans can give you a chance to socialise with other students which you wouldn’t get when making food for yourself, eating together is a great way to get to know people, and in self-catered accommodation it’s all too easy to take your food into your room if you’re feeling shy.
  • Leaving home for the first time is a big adjustment and with a meal plan there is one less thing to worry about.
  • Let’s be honest, at uni we aren’t always feeling our best, from freshers flu to hangovers it can be nice not to have to worry about cooking at times like that.
  • Instead of getting stuck in a rut of making the same three meals over and over again, a meal plan will give you the chance to try new foods everyday.
  • With most of your food already paid for, meal plans take away some of the stress of budgeting.
  • For some people meal plans are a great way to smooth the transition to university, while for others self-catered accommodation is the chance to learn life skills and be more independent. Take a look at some reviews of the meal plan at your uni and decide which option would be better for your lifestyle.


  • A big part of leaving home to come to university is learning life skills, and cooking is one of the most important. With a meal plan, you might not feel like the fully independent adult you came to university to become.
  • Most meal plans don’t include lunch, so while you won’t have to cook breakfast and dinner, there is still one meal a day to worry about.
  • Meal plans tend to be more expensive than self-catering, so look carefully at the price differences.
  • You will be paying for your meal plan for the whole term of your contract, meaning over Christmas and other times you aren’t at uni, you will be paying for food you won’t eat.
  • If you have dietary restrictions, whether you’re a vegan or have a nut allergy, your options may be limited, with meal plans often only offering one or two choices for specific dietary needs.

See also: My biggest first-year regret

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I'm a second year Liberal Arts and Natural Science student at the University of Birmingham. I'm also Print and Features editor at Redbrick and Deputy Head of Arts at Burn FM