Wrapping our heads around DePaul’s costly meal plans

With college tuition rates constantly rising, it’s important for students everywhere to cut costs. Unfortunately at DePaul, freshmen cannot look to their meal plan to do so. DePaul requires all on-campus freshmen to maintain a required meal plan of $1,123 per quarter for the first two quarters of the year through the dining service provider Chartwells. Breaking that number down means that students can spend around $100 per week on food, or $15 per day. Although to some this may seem like an ample amount, with DePaul’s inflated prices, not even an apple seems inexpensive.

DePaul’s website boasts that a full breakfast costs about $3.75 and gives the starting price of lunches and dinners at $5. Many freshmen who are restricted to using their meal plan beg to differ. First year student Timmy Gerlach realizes that “if you want an actual balanced meal from the Student Center, you’re going to have to go to $10.”

Katy Baker, a sophomore, understands the frustrations of the required freshman meal plan. “The most frustrating thing about the meal plan was not only the lack of choices and having to eat the same kinds of junky food all year, but also how hard it was to budget the money,” Baker said. Living off campus, she has opted out of a meal plan at DePaul and estimates she saves just under $600 per quarter by simply avoiding the meal plan altogether. Baker advises freshmen to “keep an eye on their meal plan and make sure to drop down to a lower meal plan at the end of the year if they have an outrageous amount of money left because you can’t get that money back.”

Compared to other colleges, DePaul’s meal plan is unique. According to the University of Illinois at Urbana- Champaign’s Housing website, students don’t pay by the dollar, but have a certain amount of meals on their card a week. These meals entail unlimited buffets and, most importantly, more choices. Their typical freshman plan has 10 meals per week with an additional $45 per week that students can use in various cafes and specialty restaurants located around campus. Many other schools throughout the nation follow a similar buffet style meal plan.

I understand why DePaul has chosen Chartwells as the food provider, as it most likely rakes in a huge profit for the university; however, some of their practices can be ludicrous. Asking for a free cup of water s a rite of passage for poor college students everywhere, but this is not possible here as DePaul chooses to charge 35 cents per cup. Nick Salek, a freshman, poses the question on all our minds: “Fifty grand a year and they can’t give us a free cup of water?”

Obviously you don’t get the best bang for your buck at the Student Center. But how do these prices compare to grocery stores around campus and the rest of the city? The nearby Dominick’s on the corner of Sheffield and Fullerton isn’t very high on the list either; due to their proximity to campus, they tend to overcharge their items. Although both Dominick’s and the Student Center are very convenient in terms of location, there are much better options. One stop down the Brown Line to Armitage leads you to a Trader Joe’s and Aldi, both of which are great bargain grocery stores. Last weekend, I made the trek out to Armitage and then walked to Aldi.

In the end I saved a ton of money. I hauled granola bars, cereal, yogurt, fresh fruit, chips, bread, peanut butter, and of course some high-quality ramen back onto the L and up to my dorm. My total came to a mere $13.98. Overall, food is a necessity, and given the situation it’s important to budget yourself throughout the quarter. Realize that there are other options to eat besides using DePaul’s meal plan. After all, Chicago isn’t famous for Chartwells food services, but for their delicious deep-dish pizza and the classic Chicago hotdog.