How to Get More Out of Your Meal Plan


Features Editor

You’ve made a decision and selected a meal plan. But unlike Jessie J or the Barden Bellas, the minimum price tag of $1294 is definitely unforgettable. Is your meal plan worth the cost? Well, unless you’re on the unlimited meal plan, you’re paying more than your meals are actually worth. Don’t believe it? Do the math.

Take the total cost of your meal plan divided by the number of weeks in the semester (14) and then divided again by meals per week. If you are on the 15-meal plan, for example, it’s $2,330 per semester or approximately $11.10 for each meal. The 12-meal plan averages out to be $10.90 for each meal and the 7-meal plan is $13.20. The most expensive meal exchange option on campus is dinner at The Caf (Ultimate Dining) at $10.95 before tax. The only numbered meal plan averaging out to less than that is the 12-meal plan, but that’s assuming you eat every single meal in The Caf instead of utilizing meal exchanges. Even the unlimited meal plan is only worth its fees if you consume more than 15 meals in The Caf each week. To bring this price into perspective, at the local Pita Pit you could get a pita sandwich, a soda and a bag of chips for under $10.

And, no, there aren’t enough Spartan Dollars to make up the average difference in average meal costs and meal prices at dining locations. The meals typically would cost less if you could pay out of pocket. University of Tampa officials did not respond for comment on this odd phenomenon. Despite the variations in value, the options where you get the most bang for your buck are the 12-meal and unlimited plans.

(Eat Your) Cheeseburger In Paradise: The Meals You May Be Missing

At the University of Tampa, we have varied food options, the choices can get overwhelming and it’s easy to miss some tasty meal exchange options:

  1. At Salsa Rico you can get tacos and a drink as a meal exchange, but if you watch the line pass through, nearly everybody sticks with burritos, quesadillas and burrito bowls.
  2. At Jazzman’s you can use a meal for one of their giant cookies and a hot or cold beverage. Instead of using that leftover meal on Sunday for a nighttime DQ Blizzard, try a cookie and hot chocolate instead.
  3. At Chick-fil-A you can get a grilled chicken sandwich, fries and a drink for a meal exchange. They don’t just put these out in the warmer with everything else, though. You have to ask one of the employees.
  4. At Starbucks Reserve you can get an old-fashioned grilled cheese sandwich made with three cheeses and multigrain bread and a beverage for a meal exchange. This only recently became a meal exchange option when the Starbucks meal exchange options changed for the third (and hopefully final) time this semester.

Top Five Ways to Spend Spartan Dollars

  1. Rathskeller- This dining option has strange hours as it is only open from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. Considering it serves Starbucks beverages and Boar’s Head sandwiches, one would expect it to be a popular lunch spot for faculty and staff, but it is rarely busy.  However, if you can get there before 2:00 p.m., the Rathskeller is a different way to spend some Spartan Dollars on a sandwich and beverage while taking in the quiet atmosphere.
  2. Einstein’s Smoothies- The smoothies at Einstein’s are large for the few dollars you pay for them and are made with real fruit. They come in either mixed berry or strawberry banana flavors and you have the option to add whipped cream on top. Plus, because they aren’t made as frequently as other things at Einstein’s, the staff sometimes makes too much and gives you the upgraded size for no additional charge.
  3. Grille Mozzarella Sticks- This is a snack found in the sides and more section of Grille’s digital menu. They are usually made well in just a few minutes. However, if you notice Grille is slammed with business, it might be best to wait on the mozzarella sticks. The staff will often fry up more chicken before your order of mozzarella sticks.
  4. Starbucks Cake Pops- Just like you would find at any other Starbucks shop in the states, the cake pops are a staple of the pastry case. They typically come in three different flavors: birthday cake, salted caramel, and chocolate. However, due to some slight problems in their first semester of operation, the Starbucks isn’t always fully stocked and therefore may not have all of these options.
  5. Panache- While fancier dress is not a requirement, Panache has the ambiance of an upscale restaurant. The concept isn’t that much different than the caf, but the food is markedly a step up. It costs about the same in Spartan Dollars ($10.95) as it would to enter the caf if you were out of meal swipes ($10.50), but Panache often offers strawberries, hand-carved meat and a multitude of desserts that rarely make it to the caf’s display case. The staff even come and remove your plates for you as you finish with them. Most of the food changes on a daily basis, so take a look at the menu outside before spending your Spartan Dollars. It’s a dining experience unlike any other on campus.

Standing in the Hall of Fame: Spartan Favorites

Campus favorites vary from student to student. “I like the caf. I usually go with a wrap or a sandwich and then also the salad bar,” sophomore psychology major Casey Gregory said. Gregory spends many of her meals at the af and has come up with some hacks of her own. “I like to take the cookies they have at the caf, put them at the bottom of a bowl of ice cream and mash them up. I’m pretty sure I invented that,” she shared.

Sophomore elementary education major Bria Adams prefers to spend her meals at Salsa Rico. “It’s on the healthier side because you get all all the nutritional values at once. It’s a well-rounded meal.” However, when Adams is running short on time, she does pay for a take-out box from the caf and fill it with snacks and sandwiches from the deli. Both Gregory and Adams did conclude that the best way to spend Spartan Dollars is on Starbucks. Gregory gets a grande caramel iced coffee with a double shot of espresso, and Adams orders a frappuccino or an iced chai tea latte.

If you decide to try these Spartan favorites or  some others, sophomore accounting major Tristan Gammon advises, “Find what you like. Just find what you like and keep going there.”

Moving Off Campus? There’s Options For You Too

If you heard about the housing policy change that promotes upperclassmen moving off campus in favor of underclassmen having on-campus housing, and have decided to leave campus housing, or you were planning on it anyway, there are still meal plan options for you.

For those that can’t shake the love of meal plans, commuters can choose from four ‘block meal plans,’ on a specific number of meals to be used throughout the semester. The plans are five, 10, 15 and 25 meals. By similar calculations to those above, the 25-meal plan would make the most sense as it brings the meal cost down to $8.40 with a total cost of $210. This plan brings the meals closest in price to the actual item charges of the different vendors.

If you’re worried that you won’t use your meals you can always purchase UT Dollars instead. They are essentially the same as Spartan Dollars, but these carry over semesters until you graduate. Students can also select the amount, unlike with Spartan Dollars. It would be beneficial for commuters to have in case they need to grab food on campus, especially later in the semester when they’ve once the broke college student syndrome sets in again.
Now, take what you’ve learned and take on the meal plan as an informed University of Tampa resident. Using these meal plan hacks and advice makes the price tag hurt a little less. Good luck!

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