Let's be honest. The food in the dining hall isn't great. From the under seasoned chicken and the overcooked meat to the plethora of less-than-healthy options (I'm talkin' to you, french fries), the food on campus doesn't make it all that easy to feel both satisfied and healthy. If you’re living off campus or willing to utilize your dorm’s kitchen, the lack of appealing eats in the dining hall does, however, make canceling your college meal plan well worth the swipes you’re no longer paying for.

Here’s why:

It expands your cooking opportunities.

Ordering takeout might be an easy way to get a meal in without exerting much effort, but if you're ballin' on a college budget, it's probably not something you'll want to do often. That means yes, you're going to want to learn how to cook.

Prior to the fall semester of my junior year, my go-to culinary creations were pasta and salad. Simple, quick, and they never required the careful discretion of making sure something was cooked all the way through...salmonella ain't no joke. But after moving into an off-campus apartment with a kitchen and acknowledging that I would inevitably get bored of empty carbs and embellished bowls of lettuce, I viewed my meal plan-less position as a chance to explore and get creative. #chefstatus

From longing for meals that the dining hall wasn't serving to being disappointed in what was being served, I realized the only way to truly satisfy my food cravings was to make them myself.

I traded in the dining hall's menu app for cooking websites and Pinterest to conduct some research and get some inspo. Lo and behold, having no other option but to prepare my own meals opened the door to a whole new world. Cue the flying carpet scene from Aladdin.

I found that having my own kitchen (that I share with my three wonderful roommates) granted me the freedom to purchase and make the food I desired, as I was no longer limited by the dining hall's constraints. Feelin' fajitas on Tuesday and chicken parm on Wednesday? The dining hall menu probably won't satisfy these hankerings, but you, a college student with a kitchen, can. 

Without a meal plan, I now feel more motivated to venture outside my comfort zone when it comes to cooking different dishes because I finally have the means to do so. 

It's a learning experience.

Like any transition, going off your meal plan is a major adjustment. And if cooking, as opposed to buying prepared meals or ordering food, is something you choose to do, then there's a lot to learn. But the knowledge you pick up along the way will better prepare you for that post-grad life none of us really want to think about.

From grilling chicken for the first time (shout-out to my roommates for checking to make sure it was cooked all the way through the first seven times I made it) to learning how to roast vegetables (thanks, Mom), I've realized that I'm gradually expanding my skill sets. And at this point in our lives, we all want to make ourselves appear more marketable, no?

When you're left to your own devices, you're bound to learn some lessons, especially through trial and error, such as the value of pouring the salt into your hand before adding it to a dish and the importance of reading the spice labels. Ever accidentally sprinkle cumin instead of cinnamon into your french toast? 1 out of 10, would not recommend.

While I'm still in the process of refining my culinary prowess, because I've come to see the time, preparation and attention that cooking requires, I've become significantly more appreciative of food in general, as well as the food preparation experience itself. 

It makes you more mindful.

With the dining hall's buffet-style setup, it can be easy to mindlessly put food onto your plate that you wouldn't normally think to eat simply because it's right in front of you. I mean, has anyone even uttered the term "chicken patty" before college? Thank you for that, Sodexo.

It's important to note that the number of meal swipes someone has could be a contributing factor to the amount of food they're eating. #Blessed with that unlimited plan? You may end up visiting the dining hall more often than you intend, getting lured in by Rice Krispies treats and chocolate chip cookies. Struggling with 14 dining hall visits per week? You could be eating a much larger breakfast than you typically would because you know you won’t be eating another meal until dinner. Or maybe you're like me, and you skip out on breakfast to catch a few more z's in the morning, which results in you "making up for it" later — #snackattack, amirite people? Placing a number on your week’s worth of meals can become frustrating because it can result in some unhealthy eating habits.

Once I canceled my meal plan, I found that I had an increased awareness of the food I was eating. When you’re waiting in line at the dining hall to serve yourself some exceptionally bland chicken and some heavily salted roasted potatoes (aka my dining hall go-to’s), chances are you aren’t playing close attention to the ingredients and nutrition facts because you’re just trying to get some sustenance from whatever appears the most appetizing. When you grocery shop and cook for yourself, not only are you able to see exactly what you’re putting into your body, but you can monitor and control it, too.

Additionally, when you’re not on a meal plan, you become more conscious of how much money you spend on food, allowing you to learn how to budget wisely and well, you know, "adult."

It gives you a good distraction.

Ever decide to do a load of laundry to put off studying for an upcoming exam? Ever sweep, vacuum, dust, power wash and polish your entire dorm room to avoid starting that paper?

It’s no secret that college can be incredibly stressful, and sometimes we all just need a brain break. Since nixing my meal plan, I’ve discovered that cooking provides me with a much-needed escape from the stress-encompassed world of academics, extracurricular activities and other collegiate obligations.

And unlike doing laundry or vacuuming, cooking instills a greater sense of accomplishment because you’re creating a product and enjoying it too, making procrastination even more worth your while.

It brings people together.

I have to say, the one thing I do miss about the dining hall life is the camaraderie fostered during mealtime. Knowing that I’d be sitting at a table with at least four other people at 6:30 p.m. almost every night was something I looked forward to. Living off campus allows you to be more independent, but when your roommates all have different schedules, mealtime could be a party of one more often than you think.

But who says communal meals are just for the dining hall?

By taking advantage of not having a meal plan, your newfound cooking abilities and by coordinating schedules, you can make group meals a regular occurrence.

Whether it's a pasta party for your sports team or a make-your-own-pizza night with your roommates, cooking in the comfort of your own home is the perfect opportunity to bring everyone together.

Although waving goodbye to your meal plan means increased responsibility and initiative, it's an educational, freeing and rewarding experience...and quite frankly, it allows for greater access to better food. And what's better than good food?