Whether you loved it or you hated it, meal plans during freshman year were convenient, offering constant access hot, ready meals with just a swipe.
And for upperclassmen — many of whom leave the meal plan behind — relying on groceries, cooking and restaurants can cause a real change in lifestyle.
“I feel like I eat a lot healthier now that I’m no longer on a meal plan,” said College sophomore Natalie Breuel. “I like to go to the farmer’s market and the grocery store on the weekends, and then I’ll cook a big batch of something that I can freeze and eat for the rest of the week. It means I don’t have to really think about it throughout the weekday.”
The Fresh Grocer and Trader Joe’s are generally priced low. Items like granola bars and produce are much cheaper when bought in bulk at these stores when compared to individual item pricing at on campus stops like Gourmet Grocer and Houston Hall.
“I definitely find it so much easier to eat more fruits and vegetables this year,” said Engineering sophomore Kerry Hollis. “Being vegan while eating at the dining halls is so difficult because the options are so limited. And buying things with dining dollars at overpriced places on campus was frustrating.”
Not paying for a dining plan means that much more money in a student’s budget can be devoted to meals eaten out. A meal bought at Sweetgreen, Honeygrow or another popular locale comes out cheaper than the true cost of a meal swipe. Food trucks are inexpensive and fast when there’s little time between classes.
“I make my own breakfast and dinner but for lunch I usually go to a food truck,” said Wharton junior Joe Egan. “Bui’s on 38th and Walnut is my go-to.”
Freshman adjusting to dining dollars and meal swipes have months to decide whether or not to sign up in their next year. Penn students are lucky enough to have access to grocery stores, markets, and take-and-go options that make a lifestyle out of dining halls possible.
“I got off the meal plan as soon as I could and I recommend it,” said College senior Caroline Garth. “I like to cook for myself, so typically I’ll have grilled chicken, pasta, or salad. And when I really need it there’s always microwave mac n’ cheese. That meal will always be a keeper.”
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