Making the Most of Your Meal Plan

Leila Swarztrauber

Sick of resorting to the Pit because you splurged on the IK for the first half of the semester? Confused when your card doesn’t go through at Holy Grounds when you try to use an express meal? Don’t have any idea what an express meal is?

Much like the cash in a college student’s bank account, points are something they “run low” or “splurge” on throughout the semester. The management of points becomes a lesson on financial planning and budgeting throughout the college year. Unfortunately, most students learn how to budget their meal plan from bad experiences.

Students often respond indifferently when asked at the checkout whether to use meal or points. Most are misinformed or even unaware of the services their meal plans offer and find themselves in a bind halfway through the semester.

“There are two months left until summer and I’m already out of points,” Kelly Scherer, a freshman, said as she realized she was “bankrupt.”

Eating on campus requires a bit of daily thought and planning. If you want to eat at your favorite places and ensure that you will not run out of meals or points by the end of the semester, choose the meal plan that fits well with your class schedule, eating habits and residence.

Did you know that there are 14 different meal plan options including five designated choices for commuters and West Campus residents? Well now that you do, explore the choices you have each semester for a dining plan. Pick a plan that will leave you carefree about the points and meals you have left in the year.

You can “buy” a meal with your plan four different ways: a meal, an express meal, a guest meal, and/or points. A regular meal may be used at any of the resident dining halls, which include Dougherty (the Pit), Donahue (the Spit), and St. Mary’s. If you have the unlimited meal plan, these are your ideal locations to eat. Feel free to eat at these dining halls as many times a day, week, month, and semester as you want. If you are just looking to grab a soda or a piece of fruit, swipe into one of these dining halls instead of using points or an express meal at Holy Grounds or the Belle Air Terrace. The $1.39 you spend on a drink between classes will add up.

If you choose to buy a soda or juice at one of the a la carte locations, be sure to use your entire allotted cash value. Express meals allow you to use your meal plan in an a la carte location including The Second Storey in St. Mary’s, the Belle Air Terrace in Connelly Center, the Corner Grill, the Italian Kitchen, and Holy Grounds in Connelly and CEER. You are allowed to spend $3.75 for breakfast, $4.75 for lunch, and $5.75 for dinner. If you go over the value, you can use another express meal to conserve points (if you don’t plan on using another that day), use a guest meal to cover the rest, or simply use points.

You’ve decided to have a dinner at the Belle Air Terrace and you pick up a Philly cheese steak, a side of fries, a large soda and a salad that totals $11. Here it would be wise to use two express meals. However, if you decide to grab a tall latté and a muffin for lunch at Holy Grounds, you may only be over your value by 25 cents. You should either swipe the rest on points or throw in a couple of extra bottles of water for the week or a Starbucks Doubleshot to use your entire $11.50 instead of wasting $5.50.

Mike Kane, a freshman this year and a huge fan of the IK, struggled with his point management throughout the semester.

“[My point balance] was on a pretty steady decline throughout the year, but around a month ago I hit 25 points and started to get more stingy with them,” he said

Going to the IK just about every day for lunch can do some damage to your point account, especially if your stomach is craving something more than a sandwich and a soda.

“I like to get a chicken-parm, a cookie, and of course some whole milk to wash it down,” he said, “so I easily go over a ‘meal’ every time. Sometimes I splurge and go upwards towards three cookies.”

Meal Plan Express is only accepted at designated locations at specific hours. At Second Storey, MPE is accepted from noon to 2 a.m. seven days a week.

At Belle Air, MPE is accepted Monday through Friday from 8 to 9 a.m., 2:30 to 3:30 p.m., and 7:30 to 10 p.m. as well as late nights from 10 to 11:45 Monday through Thursday.

At Connelly Center’s Holy Grounds, The Corner Grill, and the Italian Kitchen, MPE is accepted during all hours of operation.

If you are low on points, or trying to use them wisely, visit these a la carte dining places when they are accepting MPE so you do not have to charge a $6 meal on points.

Don’t forget about your guest meals! If you aren’t planning on having anyone visit this semester, then use them for yourself. Maybe you used all of your MPEs for the day and all of your friends are eating at The Grill for dinner. Instead of charging an expensive dinner on your points account, opt to use one of your guest meals. Most resident meal plans have at least seven per semester.

Donahue Market, Bartley’s Exchange, St. Augustine Café, the Ice Cream Shoppe, and the Holy Grounds in Falvey Library only accept points. Use these locations sparingly for the occasional sandwich, coffee or ice cream cone. As many students have seen, points disappear quickly when you do not pay attention to your balance.

If you swear by the Pit and are rolling in points throughout the semester, go grocery shopping at Second Storey to stock your refrigerator, or rent at movie at Reel Divine for a nice study break. You’ll find many students looking to eat with you towards the end of the semester when they have $4 worth of points left for the last month of school.

If you run out of points and refuse to eat at the dining hall for the rest of the semester, you can purchase additional points from the dining services office, located on the first floor of Dougherty Hall, in $50 increments that will be charged to your student account.

While you’re there, scope out the Pit–it may not be as bad as you think. Breakfast usually includes ready-to-order pancakes and omelets from the infamous Kathy. But don’t be alarmed by her wit and sarcasm at 8 a.m., she makes a mean omelet and you won’t have to worry about calculating how many points you have left. There is always a salad bar, very similar to the one in Connelly, except you can have as much as you want without worrying about how much it will cost. Feel free to put as much dressing and as many toppings as you want without the fear of it weighing too much to be covered by the designated MPE lunch value.

As your class schedules and locations change from the fall to the spring, so will your use of your meal plan.

“My core class this semester is in Bartley rather than SAC like last semester,” Kane said, “so going to The Exchange before class became a daily occurrence.”

When choosing a meal plan, consider where you will be eating when your afternoon class lets out, or which dining hall is on the way to your night class. Will you be grabbing quick meals from Belle Air between classes? Will you be dining at the Spit for all your meals? Or are you a business student and spend more time in Bartley than in your dorm and thus need the meal plan with the highest point allowance?

Your Wildcard may be the only thing you carry in your wallet, but it does have a value. Meals and points are just like cash, so budget them as you do your debit account or credit card. When finals roll around, you’ll be happy you can still afford lots of coffee and comfort food for late hours of studying.

*For more information visit Villanova Dining Services in Dougherty, access the website at, or call at 610.519.4170.