University meal plans vary from school to school, but they guarantee students enough food to survive, if not thrive. At American University, we have a dining hall alongside restaurants throughout campus that accept meal swipes. I didn't realize how good I had it until I moved across the world to Japan, where the university I attend doesn't offer a meal plan. Studying abroad without a meal plan sounds daunting, and it can be without the right knowledge. But that's why I'm here. Keep reading to learn some ways to make sure you're fed, surviving, and hopefully even thriving while studying abroad without a meal plan.

Lucy Knoepflmacher


Whether you're eating out or cooking, make sure to create a budget. Studying abroad can often come with new costs, so it is important to take them all into account. Prices can vary greatly compared to those at home, so make sure to test the waters and get a sense of how much a meal or groceries will cost before budgeting.


Something that has been my saving grace while studying abroad is the communal cooking space. I have a few simple, foolproof recipes that I circulate throughout the weeks or months, and I haven't gotten tired of them (yet). Finding recipes that are easy, balanced, and delicious won't only save you money, but also allow you to hone your cooking skills. Besides, food tastes better when you cook it yourself.

Pre-made Meals

If you have a communal kitchen but don't have confidence in your culinary abilities, make sure to find some pre-made food at your local grocery store. My go-to lazy meal is frozen kimchi fried rice, to which I add freshly chopped scallions so I feel more healthy. In all seriousness, though, there are many delicious, wholesome options to try and come to love, so don't be afraid to use the microwave.

Investing in a Cooking Appliance

If you don't have a communal kitchen, investing in a versatile kitchen appliance may be worth it. There are entire cookbooks and websites dedicated to one-pot meals that can be made in appliances like slow cookers or rice cookers, which add a bonus of less clean-up. My favorite easy one-pot meal is Japanese curry, but if that doesn't float your boat, you can find something else that appeals to you.

No-cook Meals

Another option if you don't have a communal kitchen is to find recipes that don't require any cooking, like salads or sandwiches. I love to make cucumber salads and quick pickles to add some freshness to my life, as well as plenty of fruit.

Treat Yourself

Cooking for yourself can get tiring, so make sure to treat yourself every now and then, whether that means getting a meal from the dining hall out-of-pocket, or going out to a restaurant. On-campus food is often subsidized for students, and restaurants sometimes offer student deals, so make sure to take advantage of that.

Lucy Knoepflmacher

Studying abroad can bring many new sources of excitement but also new anxieties, especially without a meal plan. Hopefully, these tips and tricks will make your study abroad experience less "woe is me" and more "yippee!"