If you’ve committed to going to the University of Tennessee Knoxville, and looked into the cost of attending as an incoming freshman any, you’ve probably already noticed that the required freshman meal plan (the 7 day access plan) costs over $2,000 a semester. As an incoming freshman, no one explained the meal plan to me (in detail) so eating for my first semester was like a gamble each time, trying to see if it was legal for me to use my meal plan at that time. This article will hopefully provide you some insight into the most important part of living on your own- food!!
1. Familiarize yourself with food options CLOSEST to your residence hall.
Below is the map of all the dining options on campus for students.
Make special notes of “The Fresh Food Company” and “PCB Cafe” because these are the two locations on campus that you ultimately have unlimited access to when choosing where to eat. Any of the “P.O.D Market” locations are just stores relatable to mini gas stations that have many useful things such as snacks for in between classes, medicine, first aid supplies, scantrons, etc.
2. Keep track of the hours of operation of all dining locations on campus.
While you are a soon to be college student who will essentially be living “on your own”, the convenience of some things on campus is not relatable to real life situations. The dining options on campus do not have hours of operation as convenient as an actual city would. UT does a really good job of updating the specific hours of operation for each week on their site, as well as listing the menu at the dining halls for the week. (click here to see the hours of operation of all dining locations on campus).
3. Become REAL good friends with the dining halls.
Referring back to the campus dining map mentioned above, UT has two “dining halls” on campus. These are titled, “The Fresh Food Company” (located in Stokley Residence Hall) and the “PCB Cafe” (located between Brown Residence Hall and North/South Carrick Residence Hall but in VERY close proximity to Morrill Residence Hall). Unless you happen to get lucky and live in Stokley, you will have to walk to either location but it is totally worth it for the “free” food, from a broke college student’s perspective. Also, these two locations are essentially an “all you can eat” style dining hall. Both have waffle making and ice cream machine stations all day long as well!! 😍
4. Understand the beauty of meal equivalency.
So as explained in the previous section, you can go to the dining halls (Stokley and PCB) anytime during their hours of operation and eat buffet style. However, built into the meal plan is something called “meal equivalency”. This essentially allows you to substitute a meal swipe at either of the dining halls (Stokley or PCB) to eat at any of the other dining locations on campus (i.e. Chick-fil-A, Starbucks, Subway, Panda Express, etc.). There are two caveats to meal equivalency however: there is a set time and amount allotted for each location that qualifies for meal equivalency. In addition, you can only swipe your card once for each “time period”. For example, if you want to go to Chick-fil-A and not have to pay full price for your food, you can use meal equivalency during the “Dinner” time (4:30pm-8:30pm) for the amount of $4.85. In English, this means that you can visit Chick-fil-A during this time and use a “meal swipe” at no charge, that you would’ve used at the dining halls. This meal swipe at Chick-fil-A covers $4.85 of your meal. So, you’re probably thinking now, “my 12 count nugget, large fry, and extra Chick-fil-A sauce cost more than $4.85- how do I pay for the rest?” This, my friend, is where dining dollars comes in clutch.
**Note: use this link to view the exact breakdown of times and prices for all meal equivalency locations. Also make note of each meal time period because as mentioned earlier, you can only swipe your card once per each meal time period- going back to the example, if you use your meal swipe to get that 12 count nugget meal at Chick-fil-A at 5:45pm, you cannot swipe your card for the rest of the dinner meal time (4:30pm-8:30pm).
5. Learn, live and love dining dollars.
If you read into the contents of the 7 day access meal plan, you will see that $300 dining dollars is included each semester. This is essentially money on your VolCard that is only allowed to be used to pay for dining expenses- hence the name, dining dollars. Revisiting the Chick-fil-A crisis from earlier, let’s say you use meal equivalency at 5:45pm for a 12 count nugget meal at Chick-fil-A. Well, your meal equivalency only covers $4.85 of that nugget meal. The remaining cost can be covered by your dining dollars!! **cue the Angels singing Hallelujah**
***Note: dining dollars roll over each semester so if you can balance them correctly, you have the potential to have more than $300 dining dollars your Spring semester. If you are like most college freshman who have stomachs the size of a walrus, then you may need to reload your dining dollars. This can easily be done online so yes, you can send the reloading link to your parents followed by the winky face emoji.
All in all, the 7 day access meal plan is a decent meal plan for UT freshman that offer some choices when deciding what to eat for any meal. Whether or not it’s actually worth $2,000 a semester? ? Not too sure about that one yet. Maybe UT will reevaluate the costs of campus dining the way they reevaluated the football program? A girl can dream.
Happy Dining, Future Vols!! 🍊🍊