10 Tips for College Students Who Hate Cafeteria Food

breakfast buffet

Some college campuses have amazing food service, from huge cafeterias offering any kind of fare students could wish for to fast food services located directly in dorm buildings. However, especially at smaller colleges, you may be limited to just one or two cafeteria options. This can get old very quickly, especially over the course of four years. Here are 10 tips to make the most of your college dining experience, both on and off campus.

1. Don’t underestimate the power of your microwave.

It’s easy to dismiss a microwave as just a way to make popcorn or tea. However, this little appliance can help recreate just about any dish college-style. A quick Google search will pull up hundreds of “mug recipes,” which are recipes that you can typically make with only a few ingredients and a coffee mug. Ramen noodles can also be made with a fancy twist by steaming fresh veggies in the microwave and adding them post boil.

2. Use mobile apps.

If you find yourself ordering pizza often, check to see if your favorite chain offers a mobile app. The Papa John’s and Domino’s mobile apps both offer a function that allows you to earn points toward a free pizza with every purchase. Taco Bell’s mobile app often offers app-exclusive coupons, such as $2 off of a $10 order.

3. Get creative with the daily options in your dining hall.

Most campus dining halls offer certain items daily and also have a rotating menu of other offerings. Don’t be afraid to mix and match things from different lines to create your own dishes!

4. Ask for student discounts

College towns know their main customer base is usually students, and they also know college students are broke. Many places will offer a discount to students—you’ll probably need to make sure you have your ID on you, though.

5. Take advantage of campus kitchens.

Most dorms offer an in-house kitchen with a stove and oven for residents to use. As long as you have the cookware, you can make pretty much anything you’d make at home, as long as your cooking skills are up to par with your mom’s.

6. Cold cereal saves lives.

When all else fails, cereal will always be there for you. Especially if you’re up late and nothing is open, cereal makes a fail-safe meal plan. Just be careful to not let milk spoil in your mini fridge (you can buy soy or almond milk to avoid this!)

7. Go to campus events

The fool-proof way to get college students to come to something is to offer them free food—usually in the form of pizza. Go check out some clubs, often the first meeting will include snacks, and events offering food will always be posted around campus or sent via email.

8. Gift cards

With Christmas coming up, you may have relatives who are a little stuck on what to get you. If someone asks, say gift cards! They come in handy when money is especially tight and you can’t afford that Taco Bell run on your own.

9. Campus coffee shops

Often the on-campus coffee shop will offer small things like salad or sandwiches that you can purchase on the go for cheap or discounted rates.

10 Consider a move off-campus

If you really cannot stand eating the food provided with your meal plan, it may be cheaper to look for a place off campus where you could cook for yourself—if your college allows you to live off campus. The main downside to this is paying rent monthly, though if you get together a few roommates, it’s usually doable.

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Caitlin Soard

Caitlin Soard is a journalist and high school student. She has had several articles published in the past and is the editor-in-chief of her high school yearbook. Looking toward college, she wants to study journalism.