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Burgers and Pizza and Fries…Oh my!
A Guide to Meal Plans
With college right around the corner, I see you fearfully envisioning your student’s diet as one of burgers and pizza and fries, oh my! Yes, we’ve been making meals for our kids for as long as we can remember. (So, quite frankly, we might welcome a break.) And yes, some of our kids have learned how to cook or even to enjoy doing so. But most have come to rely on their meal being ready the minute you — or their stomach — yells “Dinnertime!” NOW what will happen?
Before you get ready to go on a cooking, packaging, and labeling frenzy to send food with them, just STOP. I’m here to assure you that college food has indeed changed since many of us went to college. That’s not to say they won’t still be tempted by the same fast foods that were our staples. And for many, there will still be those late-night temptations of deliveries and snack runs. We’ve all heard about (or experienced) the Freshman 15 for a reason. But today’s college campuses, in addition to offering those burgers, pizza and fries, also offer quite an array of healthy meal plans and options.
For incoming freshmen, it’s really quite easy to sign up for the meal plan. Access to do so is often facilitated during Preview. My daughter started Summer B and was living on campus, immediately chose to sign up for a plan, and was happy with her choice. It was a great way to meet other freshmen and learn to make healthy choices. Her meal plan allowed for her to have a Declining Balance card that gave her other meal options outside of the dining halls. And she could still indulge herself. Occasionally.
Pick a Plan
The Open-Access Meal Plan can be purchased for either 5-day or 7-day access and gives your student the ability to eat at any one of the Gator Dining locations. These Open-Access plans offer unlimited meals at both dining halls per allotted (5 or 7) days of access. They also include a daily cash-exchange swipe at any of the dining locations around campus. Or you can choose to purchase a basic 10 meal/week plan.
Each of these plans also comes with a specified dollar amount of Flex Bucks (determined by the meal plan purchased). These Flex Bucks allow your student to eat at any of the other restaurants on campus including Chick-fil-A, Wing Zone, Starbucks, Panda Express, and Croutons. They can also use the Flex Bucks at on-campus convenience stores. Be aware that if you commit to the Meal Plan, you are committing for TWO semesters.
Another option is the Declining Balance. This choice works like a debit card and is tied into your student’s Gator 1 ID card. It is, perhaps, the most flexible account for dining. You can deposit funds at any time; it’s accepted at all Gator Dining locations; there is no minimum balance to maintain. The balance even carries forward until you graduate or leave school. Additionally, if you have purchased a plan with Flex Bucks and they need replenishing, you can add Declining Balance at any time throughout the semester.
Kits, Plans, and FLEX-ability
Available strictly for commuter students (which my daughter became as she moved off-campus her second year), Gator Dining has recently added Commuter Meal Plans. These plans include a 65 Block plan (65 dining hall meals per semester and $25 Flex Bucks, a 35 Block plan (35 dining hall meals per semester and $300 Flex Bucks) and a 30 Block and Home Chef meal plan. This third plan includes 30 dining hall meals per semester, $180 Flex Bucks, and $120 in Home Chef Meal Kits (12 meals).
As with all the other meal plans, Flex Bucks can be reloaded as Declining Balance at any time. But you do need to spend the original amount of your Flex Bucks by the end of Spring Semester or they expire. The word on campus sidewalks says to go to the POD market and buy a stash of snacks that will last longer than your expiring Flex Bucks.
Ask Your FAQs
Make your choice after an honest conversation between you and your student. We recommend you familiarize yourself with how each program works. Go to gator dining to learn more. Be sure to read the Frequently Asked Questions section. Pay attention to the deadlines for changing your meal plan. For example, after the grace period, you can upgrade a meal plan but may NOT downgrade a meal plan. A similar grace period is provided during the Fall and Spring semesters during which you can transfer the prorated values of your Residential Meal Plan to Flex Bucks.
If you have chosen a payment plan, the payments continue until the 8th and final payment is made to fulfill the 2-semester commitment. There is a grace period during both semesters where you may transfer the prorated value of your meal plan to Flex Bucks. After the grace period, you can still upgrade your Meal Plan, but you cannot downgrade. Only the participant may use the allotted meals. A student can, however, bring a guest to the dining hall, and pay for their meal with Flex Bucks.
If your student joins a fraternity or sorority, Gator Dining will refund a prorated cost of the Meal Plan or Declining Balance Account with certain restrictions. Check it out here.
How to Choose?
Your choice is a personal decision that should reflect both your student’s preferences as well as needs. Because my daughter had dietary restrictions and requirements, it was easier for her to acclimate by having a plan that allowed her unlimited access no matter where she was on campus or what time it was. The same might be true if your son is known for his bottomless pit of a stomach. For many, the flexibility and longevity of a Declining Balance account is the best choice. They will still be able to join their friends in the dining halls when they want while having greater flexibility in on and off-campus meal choices otherwise.
For the hours of each dining facility on campus, click here. Please note that dining location hours are subject to change due to school holidays and exam schedules.
If your student is adamantly opposed to signing up for a meal plan, we still suggest using a Declining Balance card. This makes it a lot easier for them to grab something quick when on campus. For their big-picture meal planning, they can head to any of the grocery stores by bus or car to purchase the food they need or want (see our blog on grocery stores). Or they can choose from among the many restaurants around town.
If cooking on their own works best for your student, most dorms have room for a small refrigerator. Most also allow for microwaves (under 1500 watts). Many of the dorms have a communal kitchen, but your student will have to bring their own pots and pans. (These usually have to be stored within their dorm room).
Keeping with Tradition
Or perhaps you can persuade them to try making Krishna Lunch one of their healthier and more cost-effective meal staples. Not only will they be in the company of many al fresco-dining Gators on the Plaza of the Americas, but they’ll be enjoying an enduring UF tradition.
Does your student keep Kosher? The Chabad Jewish Student & Community Center has Cafe Chabad or even a meal plan your student can opt into. Click here to explore the details.
A Different Type of University Meal Plan
There is a whole new type of meal service that is becoming popular with students who haven’t cooked before and don’t want to buy groceries but still want healthy meals and mom-style instruction. I bet you’ve already been introduced to this meal kit industry at home. The premise is that the company provides pre-portioned, packaged meals that are delivered weekly to your student’s door. Check out our blog on A College Student’s Guide to Meal Kits. You’ll hear from our interns, who ate well while testing many of the meal kits.
Of course, you can always end up sending them some of your home-cooked meals. But take your well-earned break first. Let them work up a taste for home!
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