When I told my friends I’d paid for a meal plan at UGA, they were not shy about expressing their doubts. “You’ll get bored of the food within a month,” they warned me. What they hadn’t known, aside from the 75 national awards that UGA has won for its campus food service, is that making the most of a meal plan and avoiding getting bored of the same dining hall food is up to the individual. I’m sure that many people do tire of eating the same thing every day for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; the good news is that you don’t have to. If you want to work the meal plan to your advantage, you need to be a little creative. Essentially, you have to make lemonade from lemons, and there are many ways to do that.
Go to the dining halls at different times. Even if your university or college only offers breakfast during a set time period, and ditto for lunch and dinner, you’d be surprised how much better the food can be if you eat just thirty minutes earlier or before class instead of after. At many larger universities, for instance, sandwich bread favorites among college sorority girls (such as light white, light wheat) will disappear faster than the non-light alternatives, and there may be fewer lines at different times of the day, as well.
Try eating with new people. I don’t know a lot about the scientific side of how or why we find ourselves liking certain flavors and despising others, but I do know that different people have different tastes. If you eat with your roommates all the time, odds are you won’t have many opportunities to branch out and discover new combinations. Sometimes other classmates know the secrets to getting the yummiest foods, and other times, just seeing someone else try the mystery meat or soup of the day can make you brave enough to try them, too. I especially appreciate going to such a diverse school because my friends from other cultures can help me predict which meals I’ll like by explaining the ingredients or comparing it to an American dish (although everything can somehow taste comparable to chicken).
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Find a new favorite local restaurant. Here at UGA, the dining halls close after Sunday brunch and open again early Monday morning, leaving us to fend for ourselves on Sunday nights. Luckily, the incredible college town of Athens is a short bus ride (or walk, for the physically ambitious) away, and it is a cornucopia of restaurants. You may already have a few favorites from home, but steer away from the fast food and try a hole-in-the-wall place instead. Smaller, lesser-known restaurants are typically family businesses, which means there’s a good chance the mashed potatoes will taste like mama’s special recipe, the fruits and vegetables will be fresher, and the service will focus more on having a good time and making you feel comfortable – in the restaurant world, Southern comfort is not just in the South.
Mix and match. I grew up with an older brother, so I understand how sloppily guys can eat, but girls may actually be able to learn a thing or two from their table manners. When guys enter an all-you-can-eat buffet, they don’t settle for a salad, an entrée, and a dessert. They end up with complex five-course meals, and they do it by combining different elements from each place in the buffet. If your dining hall allows such culinary intermingling, try adding chicken to your Caesar salad, a Panini to your soup, or just a different meat or cheese in your sandwiches.
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Make good use of the condiments. While it is probably not smart to drown everything in syrup or douse everything in sauce, occasionally adding a little something extra can make a big difference. Think back to when you were younger and cared less about watching your weight or monitoring your cholesterol or counting your calories; do pizza dipped in Ranch, chicken with honey mustard, and olive oil on your subs sound familiar?
College is a time for you to empower yourself through your independence, and that includes making your own decisions. You are the one who has to monitor and choose what you eat, but try these tips and you’ll see that you really can have fun - and delicious food - while doing it.