How to Make a Meal Plan in College (in 6 steps)

Before coming to college, I was on a roll making meal plans each week. I would sit down at the dinner table and look through all the healthy recipes I could make with excitement. When I came to college, the excitement died a little bit. The dining hall doesn’t always have the healthiest options. So how do we still create these plans for ourselves with limited options? 

1. Survey the dining hall

Every dining hall on campus is different. Some dining halls are buffet style with set stations, others are themed, and some are more like a food court. Before you can begin crafting a meal plan, you need to have a good understanding of the style dining hall offered to you. 

The dining hall closest to me is buffet style. It offers a burger station, sandwich station, pasta, gluten free station, greek, and a salad bar. That gives me a lot to work with. I also have a dining hall near by that has made to order food. It’s delicious, but offers less to play around with. 

Make a mental list of what each station has on a daily basis. It’s important to note the constant foods, or the things that will be available every day. 

2. Survey your schedule

This is probably the most important step in creating a meal plan. When I make a plan without looking at my schedule, I almost never stick to it. If I planned to make a smoothie on Tuesday morning when I have an 8am, I’m most likely going to end up just grabbing a granola bar and calling it a day. 

As you sit down to write your plan, think about how much time you have to prepare each meal. Try to also consider club meetings, gym time, and activities when planning. Once you have a good idea of this week’s schedule, you’re ready to start planning!

3. Creat a template

I like to make my plans online because it’s easy to edit, but the options are endless. If you prefer to add your plan to your daily planner, go for it! Otherwise, I recommend using a platform such as google docs or word. Personally, I use google docs. 

I created a folder in my drive called Meal Plans and it houses weeks of plans I’ve made. Decide on a basic plan for organization. Once you have that down create a meal plan template in drive. This way when you go to make your plan each week you can just make a copy of the template and edit that. This little trick has saved me tons of time! 

4. Add variety

Tired of dining hall food? Can’t possibly eat another salad? Trust me, I get it! I hate nothing more than boring dining hall food. What if I told you it didn’t have to be boring?

Don’t look at the pre-prepared meals as your only options, dig a little deeper. Try oatmeal with fresh berries one morning, and bananas and cinnamon another. Tired of salad? Top it with a piece of chicken from the sandwich station. Craving pizza? Put a wrap through the toaster and use it as crust with salsa. 

I know I’m not going to want to eat salad every day for lunch, so I don’t put it on my meal plan. If you truly want to stick to the plan, you need to plan for meals you’ll look forward to. Try to limit yourself to only having the same thing twice per week. It may seem hard at first, but I promise it is possible. 

5. Be okay with changes

My life is super busy, especially in college. Things come up all the time that I can’t account for. That’s okay! If the project due in a few days is taking a little longer than expected, it’s okay to change your plans.

Don’t punish yourself for missing a day or eating something other than planned. Instead, reward yourself for the days you did stick to the plan. You should be proud of yourself for even making a meal plan.  

6. Allow yourself to eat out

Eating out is something I don’t ever account for in my meal plans. The thing is, I’m human and sometimes I just need a break from dining hall food. If a friend asks me to grab dinner one night, it can be tempting to say no and stick to the plan.

It helps me to think of my meal plan as more of a guide. It’s there for me if I need it, but it doesn’t have to be used. It’s perfectly okay to go out and form relationships over a meal, whether it’s healthy or not. It’s college you are allowed to have a little fun! 


With love,

Ashley Ardele


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