Redbrick Food writer, Jennifer Cook, looks at what a student can expect in a week on meal plan and provides top tips on how to make your money go further.

Second year BA English student
Images by Michael Jevon

Before I started my life at university, I had many preconceptions about what the food served on campus would be like. Chicken nuggets, greasy chips and ominous vats of unknown brown stew came to mind when I tried to picture stereotypical ‘canteen’ food.

Fortunately, these turned out to be misconceptions. For a week of my life I decided to keep a record of everything I bought (and ate!) as part of my meal plan.  I prefer to have breakfast at home, so I prepared porridge in my flat each day and for that reason breakfast is not included in how I used my meal plan allowance. However, various breakfast supplies such as milk, bread, cereal, jam, fruit and yoghurt can be purchased on your meal card.

Whether you’re a prospective student curious about catered life on campus or simply someone wishing to escape to chores of cooking for one night a week…take an inside look at where your money goes!

My Week on Meal Plan:


Morning: Cup of tea (Costa) £1.75 Lunch: Cream of vegetable soup and bread roll £2.50 Dinner: Fisherman’s Pie served with mixed vegetables and potatoes £4.50


Lunch: Bombay Chicken Rice Salad £3.30 Afternoon: Hot Chocolate (Costa) £3.15 Dinner: Veggie Houmous Wrap (Starbucks) £3.99


Lunch: Parsnip Soup and brown roll £2.20 Dinner: Mushroom Stroganoff with rice, mixed vegetables and chips £4.50


Lunch: Protein Salad (Jamaican chicken, beans, lettuce coleslaw, tomato and onion) £3.30 Dinner: Lamb Dopiaza Curry (with rice, potatoes and vegetables) £4.50


Lunch: Ham, cheese and pickle salad £3.30 Dinner: Out for dinner


Breakfast: Hot chocolate (The Melt) £1.65 Lunch: Bombay rice salad and a cup of tea £3.30/£1.45 Dinner: Pasta prepared in my flat


Lunch: Jacket potato with beans and mixed vegetables and a diet coke £1.80/£1.30 Dinner: Food at home (choice not necessity as I still had enough money for food) Extras: Semi-skimmed milk and chocolate milkshake £2.00/£1.30

Total spent: £49.79

Left to spend: £0.21

Top Tips to avoid a Meal Plan Meltdown:

'Watch out for Starbucks/Costa prices! Whilst most of the food sold at university outlets is reasonably priced, food and drink at other locations may be that much more expensive'

  • Plan ahead! If you know that you’re going home at the weekend or if you simply want to eat off campus one evening try to take this into consideration earlier in the week so that you can consciously spend that little extra on your card!
  • Try to fill up your own bottle of water; you’ll be surprised how much you can spend on drinks alone
  • Although you can sometimes be left with an awkward amount of money remaining on Sunday, you can always buy additional items such as milk, cereal or even bottles of orange juice to have for breakfast rather than buying a carton from the supermarket