Catering While Studying in the USA

Those who study in the USA make a living from burgers, fries and pizza – that’s the common cliché. In fact, the options for catering while studying in the USA are anything but monotonous. More and more colleges and universities are relying on regional products, fresh ingredients and enticing with a rich, culinary offer.

In addition, there are special dining services that are offered at a large number of universities in the USA. Some universities hold weekly markets on campus, while others offer students the option of ordering packed lunches.

Rankings such as Best College Food (Niche) or Best Colleges for Food in America (The Daily Meal) make it clear that many students also pay attention to the gastronomic offerings of an institution when choosing a university.

Catering on campus in the USA

From Italian and Mexican to Greek and Asian to classic fast food – there is something for every taste at colleges and universities in the USA. Students will find numerous contact points for food offers on campus:

  • Dining Halls / Dining Commons
  • Food courts
  • Food trucks
  • Cafes
  • Supermarkets

Many American universities have so-called dining halls or dining commons. These dining rooms can best be compared with a cafeteria in Germany, but they are usually smaller than in Germany. This is due to the fact that further gastronomic offers are available on campus and the students can fall back on various options for catering.

There is a daily changing menu of dishes in the dining halls. In many cases the “all you can eat” principle applies. Then students can fill their stomachs with pasta, Asian dishes, salad, fresh fruit, meat and vegetables or cookies and pancakes. A growing number of universities also offer special menus, for example vegan food, kosher dishes or a service for students with allergies or intolerances.

Of course, there are also classic fast food dishes such as burgers, pizza and smaller snacks such as sandwiches at American universities. The so-called food courts are typically American. These are large dining areas with many takeaways, restaurants, and cafes. Fast food is mainly served here, but salad and smoothie bars are also not uncommon.

Some of the students will find further gastronomic offers in the Student Union building. There are often cafes there, which entice with a cozy atmosphere and offer snacks and drinks at lower prices. At some universities, the student unions also have their own restaurants or snack bars.

Meal Plans at Universities in the United States

The dining services of American universities include the so-called Meal Plans or Dining Plans. At the beginning of the semester, students can set up credit for meals on campus and secure meals while studying in the USA. The selected amount is usually loaded onto a chip card (meal card). With this, students can pay cashless for dishes in the dining halls and mostly in other dining facilities on campus. Learn more about USA and North America on aristmarketing.

American colleges usually offer Meal Plans in several varieties:

  • A fixed number of meals, for example ten dishes per week or a monthly quota.
  • An unlimited number of dishes for students who want to have the majority of their meals in the dining halls.

Basically, it makes sense to think in advance which meal plan best suits your own eating habits. At many universities, meals that are not used expire at the end of the semester. Some of the remaining credit will not be refunded either. For students who want to use off-campus food more often or who want to travel around a lot, a less extensive “meal package” is recommended. If the contingent of the purchased Meal Plan is not sufficient, it is possible to buy individual meals in the dining halls without any problems.

Important note: During the semester break, the dining halls and other dining facilities on campus are mostly closed. Anyone studying in the US for more than one semester or staying at the university during the semester break should take this into account when planning.

Living in a student residence with a meal plan

In contrast to Germany, the rooms in US student dormitories do not have a kitchen in many cases. As a result, students do not have the opportunity to cater for themselves. In addition, the gastronomic offer away from the campus is partially limited, especially at universities in smaller towns or rural areas. The students are then dependent on the gastronomic offer on the university campus.

An accommodation in student residence in the United States is for this reason often to a meal plan coupled. Many dormitories have their own dining halls. At some universities, all undergraduate students are required to live on campus and choose a “meal package”.

Even students who live in off-campus accommodation can usually purchase a meal plan or use the dining options in the dining halls. However, the costs for a meal are sometimes higher.

Off-campus meals in the US

In particular, students in advanced semesters and master’s students often opt for off-campus accommodation. Are you looking for a flat share or moving into a 1-room apartment in order to be more independent.

Apartments without an integrated kitchen are more common on campus. Larger off-campus apartments as well as studios and bachelor apartments for one person are in many cases equipped with a kitchen or kitchenette. Thus, students can provide for themselves and shop in the supermarket or at the farmers market. Often there are even one or more shopping centers on the university campus. In addition, there are usually a large number of restaurants and snack bars around the campus, which make it easier to eat while studying in the USA.

Who decides during the USA’s program with a host family to live, can make a meal plan hinzubuchen. The offer ranges from one to three meals a day. Complete self-catering is also possible. Some students value learning about typical American dishes and cultural customs like Thanksgiving with an American family. It is important for other students to have the greatest possible flexibility and not be tied to fixed meal times.

Food costs in the USA

The cost of meals while studying in the US depends on the individual lifestyle, the location of the university, and the type of accommodation and meals.


A dorm room in the US combined with a meal plan is considered the most expensive form of meals while studying in the US. At some universities the price for the menu plan is included in the cost of accommodation; at other colleges and universities it must be booked separately.

The exact price depends on the type of meal plan. Those who want to eat ten meals a week in the university’s catering facilities pay between US $ 200 and 300 per month at some universities and over US $ 400 at others. A “meal package” with an unlimited number of meals can easily cost US $ 500 – 600 incurred per month. Most of the costs also include so-called flex dollars – also called flex cash or flex money. Students can use the money in cafes, supermarkets and sometimes also in the bookstore or library, for example.

From apartment and flat share to homestay

Students who live in an apartment or a shared flat with a kitchen have the advantage that they can prepare their own meals and usually pay significantly less. However, the real cost will depend on the type of food and where it is purchased. Fresh fruit and vegetables are more expensive than products from the freezer. In general, it is advisable to budget at least US $ 50 and more for groceries. Those who choose a homestay program with an integrated meal plan often pay between US $ 50 and 200 per month, depending on the number of meals booked.

Instead of doing their own cooking, many students prefer to eat out. They like to fall back on special offers and regional or local specials. For example, the so-called Taco Tuesday or Wing Wednesday are particularly popular in San Diego. Many more tips on trendy restaurants and takeaways with inexpensive dishes can be found in the numerous reports on studies or semesters abroad in the USA.

Catering While Studying in the USA