How to get the best College Meal

By John D. Murphy

One of the biggest things that unites college students across America is that we’re all broke (unless you’re spoiled!). We also always think that we’re some of the busiest people on Earth (even though we waste more time than Congress sometimes!). Which means that, inevitably, we eat A TON of fast food. And inflation is not helping.

I feel that when most people think of fast food the old staples come to mind: McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King, and Wendy’s. We’re in an interesting age of sort-of upscale fast food being easily available at places like Chick-fil-A, Chipotle, or Panda Express. But the prices at all these places have gone through the roof recently! An article in Restaurant Business magazine published in 2023 found that fast-food menu prices are up 8.2% compared to a year ago, and you can tell it every time you go through a drive-thru.

When I was in high school in 2019, I used to get the bacon McDouble and a small fries and it was just under $4. That same meal costs around $7 now. Every time I go to Taco Bell, if I order what I want (chicken quesadilla and a Mexican pizza), it costs over $10. I’ve honestly come to the point where I’d rather pay the $2 or so dollars more to get food from the higher-end fast food joints because I think they taste way better and they’re not much more expensive.

To be fair, there are deals that exist at some of these places . The Wendy’s 4 for 4 is a blessing and we should all be eternally grateful. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I’ve ordered three McChickens with buffalo sauce on the side and called that a meal. These things work, but I’m about to give you some of the best advice I’ve received since I started college. When money is tight and you need food cheaply and quickly, go to Sam’s Club, or another warehouse style club, such as Costco.

And I’m not talking about groceries (although that will save you money in the long run but I suggest always checking Aldi first), I’m talking about their cafe. You can get a slice of pizza the size of your face that literally costs around $2. They have churros, they have pretzels, they have ice cream, and it’s all so cheap! Yes, you do need to know someone with a Sam’s Club membership, but if you find them, make them your best friend. (I also think I should take a moment to add that the Costco cafe is equally magnificent, so you can swap them out interchangeably). I know it is not healthy, but neither is fast food.

And I know you may have to drive a little further to get there, but even with gas above $3 per gallon, you would save more money to use an entire gallon of gas than you would to go to most other fast food places. Also, you probably need a new car if it uses a gallon of gas to get from your house to the nearest Sam’s Club! You just walk inside, the food is already made so it only takes a second to get it in your hand and you walk out having spent probably around $5 on a huge amount of food. I also think it tastes pretty good.

We, as a population of college kids, have to get smarter about how we eat fast food.

Instead of finding the best deals or sacrificing and paying a little more for less food, even if the quality is better, we need to start looking for our fast, cheap meals at other kinds of establishments. Sam’s Club doesn’t make most of their money from the cafe. They’re designedas a grocery/home goods store. If Sam’s doesn’t sell pizza at the cafe, the store is fine. If a McDonald’s franchise couldn’t get anyone to buy a Big Mac, they’d close. Sam’s can sell their food cheaply because that’s not their bread and butter.

Getting good, fast, convenient, and cheap food is our bread and butter. Instead of trying to outsmart the system with fast-food deals, switch over to a whole new system of using a store for a resource that it wasn’t necessarily designed for, but we’re really glad it’s there!

Murphy is a graduating senior at the Missouri School of Journalism.

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