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How to Effectively Choose and Use your Meal Plan!

Old 07-14-2009 at 11:19 PM   #1
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How to Effectively Choose and Use your Meal Plan!



*UPDATED FOR 2013/14*


If you decide to stay in residence, one question that always brings about confusion is which Meal Plan Size to select. There are quite a few options (even more if you live in Keyes or Bates) to choose from and McMaster's brief guidelines to help you choose one that's appropriate for you don't actually help all that much.

Let's start by looking over all the choices you have to select from:


Group A Full Meal Plan (Available to all residence students)

Light $2,940
Small $3,090
Regular $3,290
Large $3,490
X-Large $3,690

Group B Reduced Meal Plan (Available to Bates and Mary E. Keyes Residence students only)

Light $2,215.00
Small $2,365.00
Regular $2,565.00
Large $2,765.00
X-Large $2,965.00

First set (Group-A) are the meal plans that you can choose from if you live in any residence other than Mary Keyes or Bates.

The second set (Group-B) of options (in addition to the first set) are available to students who are living in Mary Keyes or Bates.

Before we dive any deeper, I'll explain what the difference between BASIC, FLEX, and FREEDOM accounts are:

BASIC is what you use when you purchase food on campus. It also avoids the tax on any food purchases you make which is a big bonus.

FLEX is the account you would use to purchase food on campus after your BASIC account is emptied out. FLEX allows you to also avoid tax.

FREEDOM is the account that lets you use part of your meal plan outside of campus at places such as Boston Pizza. You can also use FREEDOM to buy food from campus. However, you have to pay taxes when you use your FREEDOM account. You can freely transfer between your FLEX and FREEDOM account though, so if you are planning on buying more food from campus after you exhaust your BASIC account, make sure to transfer some money from FREEDOM to FLEX in order to continue not paying taxes.

Ultimately, there isn't a penalty to choosing a larger/smaller meal plan to purchase, because only the BASIC account is non-refundable. Since all the BASIC account amounts are equal among all the meal plans, you would always have to eat the same minimum amount regardless of what you choose to get your money's worth.

That being said, it's much less of a hassle to correctly choose your account to begin with, rather than having to add money to it through the year or having to collect the money you didn't spend out of your FREEDOM account at the end.

I've chosen the REGULAR Group-A (For people not living in Keyes/Bates) for both the years I've stayed in Residence. I'm a pretty heavy eater, but I also went home on most weekends. Both years, I depleted the last of my money on the very last day of exams, so I neither had to add money nor collect money at the end. You should use this to base what meal plan would be right for you. If you are a heavy eater and plan to stay on weekends, I'd recommend up-sizing to the LARGE or X-LARGE meal plans, because you would run out of money using the REGULAR. On the other hand, if you are more of a light eater who stays on weekends, the REGULAR might be perfect for you.

If you happen to be living in Keyes or Bates, you have an extra decision to make. Since you have access to a kitchen area right in your Suite/Apartment, you are allowed to select a smaller meal plan because McMaster realizes you may want to cook your own meals. Cooking your own meals is a VERY good way to save money, as food on campus is generally more expensive than cooking yourself. However, you have to decide whether you will actually want to cook a lot or if you feel like you'll be lazy and want to eat campus food most of the time. This will impact whether you opt for a smaller Group-B meal plan, or instead decide to go with a Group-A plan.

Now that you have chosen your meal plan size, there is the important aspect of budgeting your money on purchases. Most of the food you will find on campus is expensive and as a result will start to deplete your meal plan quickly. The most notorious items that do this are snacks and drinks. You might be able to get a case of Coke for $3.99 at home, but once you come to campus, you're paying in the neighbourhood of $2 PER drink. Without even realizing it, by continuously buying drinks, you will very quickly end up broke. Snacks are no better. Bags of chips can be purchased for $1-2 at home depending on the brand, but once you step on campus, expect $4-5. There is a very giant markup on these items at campus, and if you want to get the most value out of your money, I would recommend not buying them from campus ever.

The trick to all this is to buy Snack and Drinks at home where you can get them much cheaper at places like Sam's Club, Walmart, Costco, or Bulk Barn. By avoiding to make overpriced purchases like these on campus, you greatly decrease the rate at which you will deplete your meal plan. You will be able to stretch it for much longer than you would have by buying these items from campus. It might seem silly to have to buy food at home to bring to school, but you'll definitely be happy when you realize it's saving you a couple hundred dollars (if not more) over the course of the year.

I hope reading this was helpful and that you learned that you can save a lot of money by not purchasing certain overpriced items from campus!

For more information on meal plans visit our web page at http://hospitality.mcmaster. ca/ or contact Mac Express, Commons Building , Room 128, telephone (905) 525 9140, ext. 27448, email [email protected].

For information regarding applying to residence visit the Housing web page at or contact Residence Admissions, Commons Building, Room 101, telephone (905) 525 9140, ext. 24342, email [email protected].

For the Off Campus meal plan option, click here.

Sabrina Bradey
Hon. Classical History and English Language and Literature

Afzal, daisy, donner918, feonateresa, florencem., kanishka, xxsumz, ~*Sara*~ all say thanks to kokosas for this post.

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Old 07-14-2009 at 11:42 PM   #2
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Great article, and it's a wonderful update and addition.
Old 07-14-2009 at 11:43 PM   #3
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(# of meals per day) * (# of meals per week) * (# of weeks you're at school) * (cost of Bridges chili because that's all you'll ever want to eat - it's AMAZING) = what you'll need for your meal plan :p

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Old 07-15-2009 at 06:40 AM   #4
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That's nice - in my first year, there were no flex dollars for the basic amount!

Also, suggestion! I bought a pop with every dinner (only $1...) but it totallly added up. Get a water!!
Jackie Howe
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Old 07-15-2009 at 10:14 AM   #5
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Get water from the water fountain (they supply cups), not the bottled stuff!

But yeah, drinks really kill your meal plan money. You're much better off to buy stuff at the grocery store and drink it after your meal (unless it's a Pepsi product, they may accuse you of stealing if you bring in your own drink)
McMaster Combined Honours Cultural Studies & Critical Theory and Anthropology: 2008
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Old 07-15-2009 at 10:28 AM   #6
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Keep in mind that they don't really have different sizes either. Basically for salad bar and the sorts you can ask for small or large. Also, you might want corn from one place and yet a Grilled Chicken from Sizzles but you can't make it into a combo because you'd need to get straight fries and a pop. Also, the healthier your foods the more expensive so don't necessarily get the smallest account. Though if you do, it's fine because you can always add more money to it. You get tons of free mugs during welcome week fill em up with water instead of buying pop. I bought a lot of pop last year and honestly it made a huge difference in the amount spent. Oh, yesterday, I bought breakfast- a yogurt and a mango tango juice-- 8 bucks spent on breakfast. Choose your foods wisely. Take into account that if you live in Mississauga or Brampton you may be going home a lot on weekends (it's so much easier when your parents do your laundry) so don't get the largest one either. I personally have always found regular to be safe.
Old 07-15-2009 at 10:31 AM   #7
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This article is totally spot on. Snacks and drinks are the killer.

I kept a mini-fridge in my room and purchased things like drink boxes and other drinks to go in there. I also bought snacks, I kept things like apple sauce and cheese for cheese and crackers in the fridge.

I purchased the lightest meal plan the last 2 years and found I had a lot of money left over in the basic at the end of the year (150-200) so that's when I treated a friend/family to lunch/dinner or donated to the meal plan charity thing at the end of the year. If you do have money left in your basic account at the end of the year that you can't spend they always run a charity thing where you can donate to a food bank I believe right from your meal card.

If you don't buy drink and snack items too often and aren't a heavy eater and don't plan to eat off campus all the time than the light meal plan is fine. Plus you can always add money later in the year if you happen to run out. Even if you do plan to eat off campus a bit $150 is plenty of money for 1 person to spend on off-campus food once and a while.

Also to clarify I went home almost every week, as mentioned above I live in Brampton. It's so easy to go home to Mississauga or Brampton on the GO so lots of people take advantage of that. I always brought my laundry home and enjoyed the change from campus food during the week. Plus I could go grocery shopping and refill my supply of snacks and drinks.

If I was really wanting a pop or chocolate milk (something I didn't keep in my fridge) than I would just buy it on campus, no biggie if you aren't doing it at every meal. I would buy probably 1 drink on campus or less a day. Sometimes it's convenient if you're out at classes and want to go for lunch and want a cold drink.

The above equation involving Bridge's chili is a good measurement. I would gladly eat that or soy nuggets and sweet potato fries every day. So good. Bridges is excellent, I highly recommend trying it, even for the skeptical "I'm not a vegetarian types." I'm not a vegetarian either and it was hands down my favourite place to eat on campus, I tried some different menu items and they were all good but the veggie chili on flatbread and the soy chicken nuggets w/ sweet potato fries were my favourites.
-Stefanie Walsh-
4th Year Multimedia 2010-2011

Last edited by sew12 : 07-15-2009 at 10:34 AM.
Old 07-15-2009 at 11:53 AM   #8
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Bridges = Life.
When people told me it was a vegetarian restaurant I was like "Ew" I was one of the skeptical people Stephanie is talking about, but chili on flat bread, the Aztec plate, and Chips & Chili made my life.

I had a small meal plan. (The second smallest) and at the beginning of the year followed all of "don't buy drinks & snacks" and they're right, they eat up your meal plan card. By the end of December I had only used 1/4th of my meal plan card. The second half of the year I had snacks and drinks all the time because I was afraid I wouldn't finish my meal plan in time. Anyways, I ended up feeding a lot of my friends the last week of school because they had ran out of money on their meal plan cards and I finished it off perfectly.

If you want something "cheap-ish" and aren't a heavy eater I'd suggest the Salad Bar in Commons. Last year, not all the plates weighed the same (some were older and lighter) and I'd always "accidentally" end up choosing the lighter plates so my salads ranged from 2 cents to 1 dollar.
Old 07-15-2009 at 11:57 AM   #9
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Bridges = om nom nom.

I never had a problem running out of money, but then again I never buy drinks. Water ftw.
Old 07-15-2009 at 12:12 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by Cristina_n13 View Post

If you want something "cheap-ish" and aren't a heavy eater I'd suggest the Salad Bar in Commons. Last year, not all the plates weighed the same (some were older and lighter) and I'd always "accidentally" end up choosing the lighter plates so my salads ranged from 2 cents to 1 dollar.
Don't they take off the weight of the plate first before they price your food? I'm sure that's how it works.
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Old 07-15-2009 at 12:15 PM   #11
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Originally Posted by sew12 View Post
Don't they take off the weight of the plate first before they price your food? I'm sure that's how it works.
I think she is suggesting that she finds a plate that is lighter than the "Average one", so when they take the weight for the plate off, they take TOO much off.
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Old 07-15-2009 at 01:00 PM   #12
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Originally Posted by PTGregD View Post
I think she is suggesting that she finds a plate that is lighter than the "Average one", so when they take the weight for the plate off, they take TOO much off.
Thats exactly it.
they take off the weight of the "new" plates... but I guess they forgot they still had some of the old plates in there too, and the old ones are lighter. So basically.

The new plate weighs 3* pounds
The old plate weighs 2* pounds

When they always take off the weight for the new plate so you get away with an extra pound of food.

* numbers aren't accurate, just an example.

Maybe they'll smarten up and do something else with the old plates... but if they don't then you get cheap salad!

On another note, when you get to school, as tempting as it seems.. please don't steal the cutlery/cups. It's so annoying eating with plastic knives that don't cut properly.
Old 07-15-2009 at 01:31 PM   #13
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I guess it's their own fault but that's essentially stealing food.
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Old 07-15-2009 at 02:21 PM   #14
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More articles on Meal Plan tips here: 1
Old 07-15-2009 at 02:24 PM   #15
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Originally Posted by sew12 View Post
Don't they take off the weight of the plate first before they price your food? I'm sure that's how it works.
Yep, they do.

The weight difference between the plates is interesting but I really doubt it makes THAT much of a difference. They would have done something about it otherwise.
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Last edited by .:callen:. : 07-15-2009 at 02:49 PM. Reason: didn't see other posts, added a comment

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