Ithaca College students save thousands by going off the meal plan

May 03, 2016 No Comments by

by Rachel Mucha

Ithaca College upperclassmen are finding both cost and health benefits by making the transition from using the school’s meal plan to cooking on their own. The college requires all students living in dorms to have a meal plan, ranging in price from $3,290 to $3,813 per semester.

Jeffrey Scott, the Sodexo Area General Manager of Ithaca College Dining Services, said that underclassmen are required to be on the meal plan in order to get an on-campus, college experience.

“Ithaca College is a comprehensive residential campus,” he said. “Students that are required or choose to live in residential housing are also required to be on a meal plan.”

By their junior year, most students live in either on-campus apartments or off-campus houses, releasing them from IC’s meal plan for the first time. Many students say they are glad to get the chance to save money and eat what they want; among them is junior Lisa Peck.

Peck had the 14+ Blue plan for her freshman and sophomore year, which is 14 meals a week and 180 Bonus Bucks; these can be used to purchase food from on-campus cafes and to-go restaurants. This costs $3,405 per semester. Peck estimates she spends $30 a week at the grocery store, which comes out to cost $420 a semester. She is saving almost $3,000 being off the meal plan. However, Peck said she doesn’t find IC’s meal plan to be too overpriced.

“They’re somewhere in between too expensive and appropriate, I think,” Peck said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a great deal … but it seems to me that the costs are pretty much in line with what I imagine the dining hall’s operating costs are.”

Scott said that Peck is correct. He said there are a lot of factors that go into the cost of the meal plan that students may not realize.

Some of the key drivers to the meal plan cost are the cost of maintaining the dining facilities campus wide, the cost of utilities and services, the costs of purchasing and maintaining equipment and insurance and liability costs,” Scott said.

Scott said purchasing food for the dining halls is just a small fraction of the price.

Though Peck said the pricing of the meal plan didn’t bother her as much, the options the dining hall had were not entirely satisfactory for her. Now that she’s cooking on her own, Peck said the freedom from the meal plan has allowed her to make better food choices.

“It’s just cheaper, fresher and more fulfilling because I made it,” Peck said. “Maybe I even eat a little healthier because I don’t have bonus bucks to blow on snacks.”

While Peck said she thinks she’s eating healthier, junior Elizabeth Brady said she knows she is. Brady has milk and corn allergies, which she said made dining hall eating tricky. While there were dairy-free options, Brady was unable to eat the bulk of the food served in the dining hall due to her intolerances.

“The place that I felt like I could get food that definitely wouldn’t have milk in it was in the vegan section, but in the vegan section everything had corn in it,” Brady said. “So there just really wasn’t anything for me.”

Now that she’s living in an apartment and off the meal plan, Brady is cooking for herself and is experiencing both health and cost benefits. She said she is able to buy dairy-free foods at the grocery store, and ends up spending roughly $40 a week. While on the meal plan, because she was unable to eat much of the dining hall food, Brady said she spent a lot of extra money on takeout.

“This year I think I’ve only ordered from GrubHub three or four times … whereas in the years past, I would order from GrubHub probably twice a week,” she said.

Emma Paul, a junior, also spent a lot of extra money during her freshman and sophomore years. She said she would run out of Bonus Bucks before the halfway point of the semester. Paul said she often did not like the options in the dining hall.

“I don’t consider myself a picky eater at all, so me not finding anything appetizing in a room filled with food is a bad sign,” she said.

Paul said she now enjoys trying new recipes, which can result in her spending up to $100 a week on groceries. Even with spending that much, Paul is still saving more than if she had the meal plan. She said there are a lot of benefits to making her own meals.  

I find myself eating a lot healthier and a lot less now that I cook for myself,” Paul said. “I sometimes couldn’t find anything appetizing [in the dining hall] so on the nights when there were options I liked I ended up [gorging] myself. Now, my diet is much more balanced … which is a good thing.

Peck, Brady, and Paul all said they were glad to have made the transition to cooking on their own, and being off the meal plan has allowed them to save money and eat healthier.

“I’m so happy to go off the meal plan. I thought it was going to really free me up, and it did,” Brady said.

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