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Choosing the Right Meal Plan

Posted by: Cay Smith | June 19, 2009 | No Comment |

By Kevin Loker, Broadside News Editor

Gone are the days of high school cafeteria mystery-loaf. 

From Chick-Fil-A to George’s to Southside, one of the perks in choosing to come to George Mason University is the food. One of the challenges, however, is navigating all those choices without overeating, or worse, overspending. Forget about choosing a major, at least for the time being. Choosing the meal plan that best suits your eating habits and pocketbook is an important decision. 

As of this year, incoming freshmen have the option of choosing from two categories of meal plans, traditional or block. Traditional meal plans operate by the age-old weekly allowance system, in which a set number of meals are allotted to each week. If you use them, be warned: the reset time is 5 a.m. every Friday morning. Don’t use them by then, and they’re gone forever, as is your money. 

Block meal plans also operate by an allowance system, but unlike traditional plans, the set number is for the entire semester. This works better for some eating habits, but keep in mind that the meal plans—and again, your money—disappear forever if they go unused at the end of the semester. 

For both, the best value is in the newly opened Southside. Only one swipe (and thus, only one meal) is required for entry into the “all-you-care-to-eat location.” The facility is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and the selection is aplenty.

Sometimes, however, it may not be as quick or convenient as a busy class schedule may demand. When this is the case, “combos” are your best friend. They count as one meal, and dining venues in the Johnson Center and Student Union Building I begin offering them at 2 p.m. Depending on the venue, a combo may include an entrée, side and drink. Take note, though: prior to 2 p.m., items in these areas are only sold à la carte.

“Bonus” money can be your saving grace in the morning or afternoon before those combos become available. This money, separate from your set number of meals, acts as cash at any dining venue on campus, as well as the two convenience stores, at any time of the day. The amount is limited though, so don’t count on using it all the time. (Besides, maybe you’ll want to use that money for a latte every now and then—odds are you won’t want to depend on rationing it for a bagel a day for the entire semester. That’s not the point of bonus, and it’s probably not healthy either.)

Here’s a more in-depth overview of all the plans offered, how much they cost and the eating habits they best suit. All come with $100 bonus, unless otherwise stated.

Block Plans

130 meals: This option is best if you plan on going home on the weekends. Otherwise, it’s good for those who like snacking on the go or in their rooms and having one or two solid meals a day. To eat a full meal more often than that, however, it’s best to keep an eye out for those free food events. Keep track, and use your bonus wisely. ($1,300) 

150 meals: This allowance is  a slightly more comfortable option for those going home on the weekends, and only costs $50 more for 20 more meals. That’s a steal. But this option is not so practical for living on campus 24/7. You’ll still be buying Taco Bell out of your pocket every now and then if you go this route under those conditions. ($1,350)

175 meals: Pick this if you like to eat approximately three solid meals a day and know you’ll sleep through breakfast every now and then (which, since you are in college, you probably will). If you’re going to be on campus during breaks, however, planning  how many meals you can eat per week gets a little more tight. Bonus money might help you a bit here, but again, don’t rely on it. ($1,425)

200 meals: Though the most expensive block plan, it’s probably the most suitable if you’re going to be on campus all the time. With approximately 16 weeks per semester, this means you can probably get away with two or three meals a day, give or take. Do the math, and if everything lines up, go with this. ($1,485)

Traditional Plans

10 meals weekly (no bonus): This plan is the cheapest, but keep in mind that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best. To get your money’s worth without going home on weekends, you should be eating one solid meal a day, probably at Southside, and fitting in the extra three where you’re hungry. There’s no bonus, so any purchase outside of the set amount is coming from your pocket. Stock up on cereal for your room with this one. ($1,275)

10 meals weekly (with bonus): The only difference here is you get $100 of bonus money. Nice for the occasional protein shake at Freshens, but otherwise, plan as you would without the bonus. Cap’n Crunch is your friend on this plan. ($1,375) 

15 meals weekly: Choose this plan if you can count on two solid meals a day. For big eaters, the best bet is Southside, but this plan works well for getting those combos every now and then as well. ($1,575)

Ultimate: The category this is filed under is misleading. With this plan, you get unlimited access to Southside. The catch is it is exclusive. Get this plan if you can afford the time to always eat in the dining hall. No leeway for combos at the JC with this one. ($1,860)

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