COLUMN: Meal plans are bad lesson in personal fund management

Jen Steer

Sometime last week I went to get some food on campus courtesy of my meal plan. Much to my surprise, the vegetable stir-fry at Eastway, the only non-meat meal, had a dirty little secret: meat in the rice. Just so we’re clear, vegetables plus pork fried rice equals vegetarian. Good, good.

But this isn’t my only problem with on-campus dining.

Last year, I had about $300 left at the end of the first semester on my basic food plan. This year, I currently have less than $200 with two weeks left before exams. I seriously have trouble believing I ate much more food this year. That just doesn’t make any sense.

Theories differ as to what has caused many students to go broke on meal plan money. Either the rate of inflation these days is skyrocketing out of control, or someone is making a pretty penny off this meal-time trickery.

Comparing the prices of some items in the campus convenient stores to grocery stores is enough to make me start emotional eating. Too bad I can’t afford to do that. Frozen macaroni and cheese on campus is $4.99, while the same product can be found at the local grocery store at two for $5.

It is true Dining Services can’t get as low of prices on grocery items as Giant Eagle because of the advantages of buying bulk, but even the cafeteria food is steeply priced. Powdered egg mix cannot be that expensive.

Even worse than just the overall pricing of on-campus food is the price of the “vegetarian options.” A dinner of chicken, rice and vegetables at Eastway costs about $5. But getting a large salad for dinner can cost you around $7 once it’s weighed, especially if you like heavy vegetables like tomatoes. Discrimination? I think so. I’m mad and I’m not even a vegetarian.

Taking my depleting funds into consideration, I could take the path of the typical college student and live off of Ramen noodles for the rest of the semester. But in case you haven’t figured it out by now, I am not the typical college student. The thought of surviving solely on individually packaged, cheap, imitation cardboard pieces is frightening to me. I am not ready to give up the only thing I have to look forward to during most days of the week. Food at 4:30 will not be sacrificed.

If the campus meal plans are supposed to be lessons in money management and economics, then consider me a failure. But I know I am not alone. The little charts next to the register are a constant reminder to some that the quest to loose the “freshman 15” will start just because they won’t have any money for food. Say good-bye to late night study time snacks to keep you up during exam week and hello to a cocktail of illegally obtained energy enhancers.

For the time being I have stocked up on a few essentials to get me through the rest of the semester. The case of popcorn in my room will hold me off for a while, but I will soon have to give in to the temptations of Lean Cuisines and, my personal favorite, Sunday brunch. I can’t help it, I love biscuits.

Jen Steer is a sophomore broadcast news major and columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact her at [email protected].