Food. Every American’s favorite pastime. Not only is food necessary for functioning, but it’s a great way to bring people together and meet new friends. At college presentations and even on their websites, the meal plan options and alternatives can be overwhelming. Here’s a guide to eating at UF, stretching your dollar (and possibly your pants). All prices listed are the ones advertised for Fall 2016. To make it a little easier, let’s break it up into on campus and off campus, starting with on campus (scroll down to “commuter” if you’re off campus!)
Resident-Centered Meal Plans
7-Day Open Access
Cost: $1,985 per semester
Savings: Without a meal plan, the door rates for campus dining halls are $6.99 for breakfast, $8.49 for lunch, and $8.99 for dinner (not including tax). This meal plan will cut down your cost to about $3.70 per meal, saving you an average of $4.46 each time!
Availability: With this plan, you’ll use your Gator1 Card as your meal ticket. You can go to The Fresh Food Company and the Gator Corner Dining Center (GCDC) as many times as you want (aka unlimited ice cream) at any time of the day. You can also choose from any of the 12 other places to eat on campus, some of which are only open at certain times of the day (see the infographic for more specifics).
Besides 14 food options, your meal plan also gives you $225 in “flex bucks” which can be used at any on campus restaurant, like Starbucks and Chick-fil-A!
Best For: On campus students who don’t enjoy cooking. Meal plans that cover 7 days are normally recommended for those living on campus, because, unless you live off campus and for some reason you plan on coming on campus on Sunday just for fun, you will waste a full day of your meal plan (which money-wise is about $300). Most students don’t have classes on Saturday, so that would be another wasted day. If you’re an on campus student not cooking savvy and this describes you, you may want to jump down to option #3!
7-Day Open Access Plus
This meal plan is the same as the regular 7 Day Open-Access one, except for the price and flex bucks.
Cost: $2,235 per semester
Availability: The main difference between this plan and the first is that this one has $250 extra flex bucks. The price difference is exactly that, $250, so this plan doesn’t exactly save you any money. This plan is best if you want to dedicate that extra money solely to food in your account.
5 Day Open-Access
Cost: $1,985 per semester
Savings: This plan is essentially the same as the 7 Day one when it comes to your food availability except for the fact that it’s only on week days. It does cost a little more per swipe at $4.74 but that still saves you $3.42 versus the door price.
Availability: You still have those two “open-access” locations and the 12 other ones. The perk to this one is that you get $375 in flex bucks (more Starbucks).
Best for: Off campus students with classes every day or anyone who goes home on the weekends. With this plan, you won’t waste those two days of food and money. This plan will give you easy and convenient dining choices if you have to squeeze in meals between classes.
14 Meals a Week
Cost: $1,935 per semester
Savings: This plan only saves you $1.40 per use, with each swipe costing about $6.76 per visit. The plan itself is only $50 cheaper than the 5 Day one, and gives you 2 meals a day and is without any open-access privileges. In my opinion, you’re better off spending $50 more and getting the 5 Day plan. This will save you the stress of having to count your meals and spread them out with the open-access perks.
Availability: Like I hinted at before, this meal plan does not have any open-access features like the other 3, it also has $50 less flex bucks.
Commuter Meal Plans
Cost: $480 per semester
Savings: This plan will get you 65 meals per semester, or 2-3 meals per week, and saves you about $1 with each swipe (around $60 a semester).
Availability: The 65 Block plan is ONLY available to off campus students. You can go to any of those 14 locations mentioned before, but you only have $25 in flex bucks.
Best for: Off campus students who are good with only eating at the predetermined places. This plan only gives you $25 for other food locations, so – economically – eating at the dining halls and those 12 other places primarily would be your best choice.
Cost: $480 per semester
Savings: This plan saves you about the same as the 65 Block one when it comes to dining hall swipes.
Availability: The huge difference in this plan and the previous one is the $300 you get for flex bucks. This plan is much more customizable, which, as a commuter, could be a significant plus. The closest food option on campus to your dorm could be a place not covered in the main 14, and these flex bucks could really come in handy.
Best for: Off campus students who want more options. With this plan, you don’t have to feel tied down to the preset options. The bulk of your money is in the flex bucks, opening up your options. It also is the same price as the other one.
Declining Balance Accounts
This last option is a little different from the rest. It’s not technically a meal plan, but it doesn’t leave you out on your own completely. Declining balance accounts are basically debit cards that can only be used for food. Your parents can load it up every month or semester with a certain amount of money that is exclusively set aside for your dining expenses. There’s no charge to open one of these accounts, and if you are a savvy spender it may be a good idea for budgeting. This option also allows money to carry over each semester and year if you do not spend it all in one year.
Deciding Against a Meal Plan
Meal plans aren’t for everyone. Some think it’s an utter waste of money, which others have really good experiences with the meal plan life. Whether you decide to just make everything yourself or go to the dining halls only three times a week, it’s up to you. If you do pick to go sans-meal-plan, you won’t go hungry in Gainesville. There seems to be a Publix everywhere, and it’s a typical college town with endless amounts of fast food choices. Your dining halls may not be like the one in Harry Potter, but try to go in at least once to complete your college experience.
For more information, visit the UF webpage and these brochures I referred to: