Northwestern's New Meal Plan Options, Explained


Keeping ourselves fed while also trying to save money, get good grades, and have a social life can be difficult.

With this in mind, Northwestern Dining has done research and conducted focus groups in order to make their meal plan options better for its students. These changes, including the introduction of a new plan called the Open Access Plan, will improve price, access, and flexibility for students on the university’s meal plans.

Open Access Plan

First of all, the Open Access Plan – which all first-year students are required to choose starting next year – is a plan that “allows students to enter the dining halls as many times as they would like throughout the day, or multiple times per meal period to accommodate their schedules and eating habits,” said Ken Field, Northwestern’s Director of Dining. For instance, you can swipe in to grab coffee or a snack without worrying about how many meals you have left for the week.

Obviously, the first concern here is that students who would normally choose a plan like the Weekly 14 would be forced to pay more for the mandatory Open Access Plan. However, that’s not the case. According to Field, these changes have lowered the cost for what an average freshman would pay for their meal plan this fall by $531.

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In addition to open access to the dining halls during the day, students on the Open Access Plan will also receive dining dollars to replace the old system of equivalency meals and points – $125 per quarter, a total of $375 per year. These dining dollars can be used at any on-campus retail location, Field said. (Yes, that includes Dunkin and Frontera.) They can be used to buy food or other items like laundry detergent and school supplies. Plus, unspent dining dollars don’t disappear. Instead, they roll over to the next quarter until they expire at the end of the academic year, so you won’t have to stress about wasting equivalency meals or points if you don’t get the chance to use them.

“Students on the Open Access plan will be getting more access to food throughout the day and night, better value for the price of the meal plan, increased flexibility in how and when they spend their dining dollars, and no worries about meals or equivalencies expiring each week,” Field said, summing up the benefits of the plan.

Other Changes

Other changes include the introduction of a Base 14 plan (14 meals/week, $225 dining dollars/quarter) and a Flex Pack 330 plan (110 meals/quarter, $275 dining dollars/quarter) for upperclassmen. Northwestern will also offer a Commuter Meal plan for off-campus students and staff. This 50/50 Plan will provide 50 meals and $50 dining dollars that don’t expire until the end of the academic year, Field said.

Finally, starting next year, Northwestern will keep the dining halls open over Thanksgiving, Winter, and Spring breaks and offer meals at no additional cost to students staying on campus during these times. These meals will not affect meal plan usage.

By reducing the overall price of all of the student meal plans, increasing flexibility, and providing better access to dining halls and on-campus dining options, Northwestern is aiming to take students’ needs and concerns into account and improve students’ satisfaction with their dining experience.