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Life Off the Meal Plan

November 17, 2016

Life Off the Meal Plan
by Stephanie Mace

Yesterday, I thought I was finally being a real person as I decided to prepare some quinoa for lunch. I combined one cup of the grain with two cups of water, as the package instructed me to do, and waited for the combination to boil, retreating to my room to attempt to work on thesis. Of course, so absorbed in my procrastination, I completely forgot about my quinoa—until I smelled something burning ten minutes later. The water and quinoa combination that I had so expertly prepared was boiling over, the tiny grain kernels spilling all over the stove my apartment-mate had just so kindly cleaned. It looked like I would be getting lunch at the Hub today. The “quinoa incident,” as my apartment-mates referred to my disastrous attempt at adulthood, left me dreaming about my days on the meal plan, when a simple swipe brought me a ridiculous selection of food options, including unlimited cookies and soft serve ice cream with multiple types of cone to choose from. And how can I forget about Harvey Mudd’s build-your-own-pizza and Pitzer’s pasta bar?

Still, despite the convenience of the 5C dining halls, I find life off the meal plan has left me far more independent. I no longer worry about rushing to Collins or Pitzer for dinner before the 7pm close. I don’t have to plot out how to use my “swipes” for the week and I don’t think twice about having lunch at the busy 12:15 time.

The dining halls certainly offer opportunities for socializing, spaces to run into friends and classmates and chat about the big psychology midterm or last weekend’s party highlights. Yet there’s something to be said for eating breakfast (or dinner) in pajamas. In the comfort of my apartment, I feel no judgment or concern about dining solo when I need to get studying done or just want to catch up on last night’s TV shows.

Meanwhile, cooking always provides an adventure and a break from the monotony of studying for a test or writing a paper. Although perhaps I’ve been the victim of some Pinterest fails—my one-pot tomato basil pasta does not usually turn out like Martha Stewart’s—preparing simple meals can prove relaxing and enjoyable (especially when I’m not burning anything).

While perhaps I occasionally miss Collins's bread pudding or Frary's mac and cheese, I’ve found that life without the dining halls has allowed me to develop habits that I will need after graduation, such as planning dinners and making time to go grocery shopping. Without a meal plan, I feel (slightly) more prepared for the real world, where each meal isn’t accompanied by a luxurious dessert and dirty plates don’t just disappear on a conveyor belt.

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