How to Cheat Your College Meal Plan

You’ll probably be surprised to learn — as I was some odd six years ago — that your average college or university factors in an upcharge to your meal plan more than just the cost of food. Why? They work off the assumption that food and/or plates, utensils or other miscellaneous items will be taken while you eat there. Why do they do this? Because the smartest of college students always find a way to cheat the system.

Corky the Camper

By his senior year, Corky had finagled it so that he was in four classes and they all met on Tuesday and Thursday. Yep, that means he had MWF off for his final semester. Though he lived off campus, he still opted for the 11-meal plan. Virtually every MWF started out with him rolling up to the dining hall a few minutes before breakfast ended and posting up in the way way back where he could eat breakfast and do work on his laptop. There’s always a transition phase where the cafeteria would sort of shut down and they’d take away the pancakes and bring out the chicken patties, but they don’t require anyone to leave. And the wifi keeps streaming. In this way, Corky would spend his days working and eating, eating and working. As his single swipes were transformed into two and — on some extreme days — even three meals, he’d watch his collegiate brethren come and go, each with their own tactic for cheating the system.

Lesson: If your caf runs on the swipe system, never, ever leave.

Susie the Sneaky

Her name wasn’t really Susie, but she sure was sneaky. When camping out in the caf I noticed her unique tactics. Our cafeteria had racks full of cookies and muffins. Susie would sneak up and snatch one, two sometimes even three cookies at a time. She’d hum her way back to her seat, roll them up in napkins and place them in little plastic bags. A few times I even saw her get an ice cream cone from the machine and walk right out of the dining hall after dinner.

Lesson: Many of the grab-and-go items in the dining hall are super easy to stockpile and/or walk right out with on your way to your next life success.

Dean the Diabolical

Ever the practicer of ultra-precision, Dean was fond of calling the cafeteria’s automated messaging system to scope out the menu before he’d commit to using a swipe. On your average day, the main course was something mediocre. Some people would meander over to the sandwich bar instead. Others would settle for some pasta with whatever sauce. But on those glorious days when a choice main course like General Tso’s chicken, chicken parmesan or chicken pot pie was on deck, Dave would set out from his dorm with a backpack full of empty containers and a smile on his face. Though the line was long, after he had his fill, he’d go up every 10 or 15 minutes and get another plate of the good stuff. He’d return to his seat and slide it right into a container, close it, put it away and continue conversation around the table. Before long he had high-quality meals for the rest of the week-plus. 

Lesson: Containers tucked between textbooks and laptops can be a sneaky way to preserve the choicest of meals at your dining hall.

Kyle the Kriminal

Kyle was a downright fiend. He lived off-campus and had something like seven swipes a week. Not only would he camp out, he’d bring two backpacks sometimes: one for his classwork and one for his foodwork. Every single lunch, he would get a custom sandwich from the deli that he would take out in a gallon-sized bag. For the more luxurious meals he liked, he’d bring in a variety of containers. On my favorite occasions, Kyle wielded one of those large containers built for storing cereal. It was the only thing in his backpack, and just before leaving the dining hall for the day, he threw it right up on the counter and filled it up, one scoop at a time. He filled it to the brim with Fruit Loops. Other times, if options permitted, he’d make a fruity cocktail of cereals with Fruit Loops, Fruity Pebbles and Captain Crunchberries. Kyle ate like a king at home and a thief at the dining hall.

Lesson: Cereal is basically a currency in college. If you can smuggle larger containers, you can burgle in bulk.

Pietro the Platenapper

“Free fine China” Pietro called it. Ever the lover of justice, Pietro was outraged the day we all learned that the college upcharged all meal plans to compensate for thievery. A light eater, he hardly ever pilfered food, but over time exacted his revenge against the institutionalized oppression by pilfering a plate here, a bowl there or tucking a spoon into a notebook. One time, I was at a party in his apartment and he proudly showed me his kitchen cabinets: a full set of eight of everything. Plates, bowls, coffee mugs, forks, spoons, knives.

Louie the Lactose Challenged

“Lactaid milk is real expensive, dude!” Louie said to me once. I was getting a cup of orange juice at brunch while he was at the mini fridge, dumping a series of three soy milk cartons into a large plastic jug.

Lesson: Save money on buying your own expensive non-alcoholic beverages by borrowing in bulk. Tip: Don’t waste your time doing this with soda.

Tara the Trader

Tara is scrappy. Where there’s a will, there’s a way for this chick. Not to generalize here, but male students tend to eat more than their female counterparts, especially when running with the athletic crowd on campus. Tara, an athlete herself, picked up on this fact after observing male students finishing their meal plans significantly faster than the ladies. An “Ahh-haa!” moment hit her as she was sitting in the caf, rocking the same sweatpants and under armor for the past week or so. “These dudes need food, I desperately need to do laundry,” she thought, and so began a tradesies alliance of food for laundry money. Not necessarily “cheating” the system, but bending a few rules to get by (and have actual clean clothes, not just sprayed with Febreeze) on less than a shoestring budget.

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