How BYU meal plans compare to other Utah universities

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Ty Mullen
Freshman Spencer Moffat makes a purchase at the Helaman Halls creamery. BYU meal plan money can be used at creamery locations. (Ty Mullen)

When it came to the end of Payson Ashmead’s first semester at BYU before his mission, he found that he — like many other students — still had money left over on his Cougar Cash card.

“Everyone else was doing the practical thing,” Ashmead said. “I took my roommate shopping . . . and he bought a whole ton of canned soup and he felt really lame.”

Because Ashmead wasn’t returning to BYU, he decided to spend money on Creamery items he could enjoy before leaving for his two-year mission to Germany.

“I thought, ’Man, I have to do something better with my money,’” Ashmead said. “I thought of the thing I most enjoyed that I could buy from the Creamery, and that was Cookies and Cream milk.”

Using what money he had left of his meal plan, Ashmead bought out the Creamery’s entire stock of Cookies and Cream milk and packed it in his car to take back home with him to Ogden that night.

Ashmead didn’t want the milk to spoil on the drive back up to Ogden, which led to him preserving it in a rather creative way.

“I put on my two coats, my pair of gloves, it was in the middle of the winter, it was really cold, it was ten o’clock at night, I turned the AC on full blast, rolled my windows all the way down and I drove to Ogden on I-15 like that so I could refrigerate my milk,” Ashmead said. “It worked – it didn’t spoil.”

Ashmead then had the milk for breakfast everyday for at least a month.

“It probably would’ve been fine but I was very paranoid,” Ashmead said.  “I don’t drink it anymore, probably because I drank way too much of it (then).”

Many BYU students have expressed frustration over not receiving a refund of the money they did not spend on their meal plan. To help students gain a better perspective of BYU’s meal plan, Director of Dining Services Dean Wright compared the purchase of meal plans to housing contracts.

This chart shows the number of students at USU, U of U and BYU and how many of those use meal plans. (Camilla Stimpson)

“You’re making a purchase. If you live in housing, you’re purchasing a place to live in,” Wright said. “Even if you’re gone for Thanksgiving break and don’t spend every night there, you still paid for those nights.”

Wright said BYU strives to keep the cost of education as low as possible, and Dining Services adheres to that philosophy.

“Buy the plan that you feel best suits your needs,” Wright said. “There are eight different meal plans which benefit students, from those who live in Helaman Halls to those who live off campus.”

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Eat at various locations on campus with discounted prices at The Commons. A daily allocation of $12.40 is given to those with this plan.

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Dine in The Commons at the Cannon Center up to 13 times each week. Unused meals are forfeited at midnight on Sunday each week.

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Students receive $500 dining allotment at the beginning of each semester, or $250 for a term. Allows holders to eat at dining services locations.

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Available to all students. This allows participants to eat at dining services locations and The Commons. Additional $55 dining dollars can be purchased for $50 on My Dining Account.

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Dining dollar allotment of $1,400 per semester. Additional $55 dining dollars can be purchased on My Dining Account for $50.

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Monthly allocations of dining dollars to purchase goods and services at dining services locations. Monthly allocations of $100, $150 or $200 dining dollars are offered.

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A block meal plan that can be used at The Commons. Holders can choose between a block of 25 or 50 meal passes each year, with additional blocks of 5 meals available for purchase on My Dining Account.

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Students are allocated $250 per semester and are able to eat at The Commons as often as they want during business hours every day of the week.

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BYU does not release financial information, so there’s no way to know how much money students forfeit at the end of their plan if they don’t choose to purchase items with the remaining funds.

Meal plans aren’t available at every college or university, but Utah State University’s Executive Director of Dining Services, Alan Andersen, said that school does refund leftover student money in what they call their ‘block meal plan.’

The plans “never expire, they never go away,” Andersen said. “If they (students) withdraw, or they transfer, or they graduate, or they take a leave of absence — for example, a mission — we refund the entire balance left over, no questions asked.”

USU’s  ‘housing meal plans’ do have a “use it or lose it” policy. If a student doesn’t use their housing meal plan funds, they lose the money altogether.

Andersen also said that twice a year, USU does a program where students can donate their unused meal funds to a food bank.

Ty Mullen
Exercise and wellness student Emily Hyde browses at the Helaman Halls creamery. The creamery is one location where students can use meal plan money. (Ty Mullen)

Some BYU students reported using their extra meal plan money to help others. BYU alumna Elise Six had a meal plan her freshman year of college, receiving $30 a week for meals.

“At the end of both semesters, I had somewhere around $50 left over,” Six said.

Six chose to use that money to help her sister, who had just moved to Salt Lake and was short on money. Six said she would often use her meal plan to take her sister out to eat and buy her groceries.

“At the end of the semester, I’d have her come down to Provo the night before I flew home and let her spend the rest of my money on whatever she wanted from the Creamery,” Six said. “She usually stocked up on produce, cereal, pasta, milk, eggs, sauce — all those good things the Creamery sells.”

Six said she is overall satisfied with the BYU meal plans.

Megan McLaws had a meal plan for four semesters when she lived off campus, after her parents offered to pay for one.

McLaws said she often let upperclassmen use her meal plan card for meals, then they would pay her back. 

“I once treated a huge group of friends to ice cream,” McLaws said. “The rest of it, I spent at the Creamery on 9th, on meds and cleaner type items.”

She added that while it was difficult to find options that fit her vegetarian diet, the meal plan was extremely convenient.

“I was too lazy to make food myself,” McLaws said. “It was mostly for health reasons and convenience.”

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