How not to have a meal plan: a primer
Today, a new crop of students received acceptances to our institution, a bastion of intellect and preternatural talent. The new Columbians who we’ll meet either at Days on Campus or in the fall are, like everyone already here, pretty damn smart.
But all those skills with textbooks, exams, and essays don’t necessarily entail real-life know-how or common sense. Many current Columbians will agree that transitioning from households of families to virtually independent living is no easy task. We’re not actually adults now, right? That can’t be what that high school diploma meant.
And what is the most important, fundamental human task that we need to tackle on our own? Eating. Yes, as first-years, we are required to purchase meal plans and many can bring themselves to fathom a year or more of John Jay and Ferris after that.
But for the rest of us, those of us who simply cannot handle, day in, day out, alternative grains, overcooked pasta, and country fried steak (maybe it’s good? I can’t bring myself to try it.), we have to learn how to feed ourselves—and not succumb to the easily-accessible world of overpriced Manhattan food.
“How?” you ask? I am by no means an expert, but I will provide the meager amount of advice I can offer after almost a full year of feeding myself and still having some money to spare.
Not on sale? Not worth it: The other day, I went to Westside with one of my first-year LLC suitemates, and she was perplexed as to why I was buying only very specific items. Those specific items? Anything on sale. When I’m at home, I may be able to convince my parents to splurge on Chobani or Fage, but when it’s just me, I’m going for the La Yogurt (fancy!), which is, more often than not, less than a dollar a container when you buy several.
This applies to almost everything, except certain categories like produce and dairy. Even meat has specials. It may seem heart-wrenching to part ways with your name-brand staples, but I promise—getting a full bag of groceries for around $20 is way more satisfying.
Don’t buy in bulk: I’m assuming that you’re only feeding yourself, so why would you buy more than you can eat before it goes bad? That is a waste in and of itself. True, canned and frozen products can last a long time, but I have found that I even have a hard time finishing a loaf of bread before it starts growing mold. That’s money lost right there. Costco is great for families and frats, but not individual college students.
Make friends: Friends with exorbitantly large meal plans, that is. Look to first-years initially—they’ve been forced into meal plans and, most likely, cannot possibly eat the amount of meals a week Columbia has sold them. In this case, it’s a win-win: They won’t feel like they’re wasting so much money/food, and you will be fed. And not being on a meal plan, you won’t be completely sick of what John Jay or Ferris has to offer.
Please, just go to Trader Joe’s: I’ll admit that I don’t make it down to this magical place on 72nd as often as I would like to, but that won’t keep me from extolling its delicious, cheap virtues. Trader Joe’s is a college student’s dream.
It has frozen pizza, (somehow) non-frozen, non-refrigerated Indian meals, dried fruit, yogurt, pre-cooked meat, cookies, and candy galore—all for prices far superior to Westside or Morton Williams. Some people will tell you similar things about Fairway, but I’m sticking to TJ’s on this one.
Obviously, this is not a comprehensive guide whatsoever, but it’s what I can offer. Disagree? Have something to add? Comment!
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