Students are paying roughly 85 percent on average more per day on food through their college meal plans than they would be if they ate at home, according to some of the latest data from The Hechinger Report. Today's shocking sticker price of meal plans has risen nearly 47 percent over the past decade.

The average meal plan works out to roughly $18.75 per day, or approximately $4,500 for a full eight-month academic year. Of course, all schools will have some variation. Many colleges require a meal plan purchase to live on campus, which means colleges are taking a bigger and bigger bite out of students’ education funding each and every year.

Can You Use Student Loan Money for Meal Plans?

The good news is that federal student loans, as well as their counterparts, all should cover the costs associated with college meal plans. This is because of a little-known regulation called the Higher Education Act of 1965. This act laid the groundwork for precisely what could and couldn’t be funded with federal student aid. Private student loans almost always cover the same categories as federal aid.

The cost of attendance, as laid out by the U.S. Department of Education, includes tuition and fees, books and supplies, as well as room and board among a few other categories. This means a student loan can be applied to your meal plan if you choose to sign up for one at your college. Keep in mind, student loans will also cover the cost of providing your own room and board if you decide to live off campus. In many regions, living off campus works out to be much cheaper than living on campus.

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To get federal student aid, you’ll first need to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Depending on the final outcome, some students may want to seek further funding through other avenues, like private scholarships or private student loans.

Choosing the Most Economical Meal Plan

Not all meal plans were created equal, so do your homework before purchasing. How many meals a day will you eat on campus, and how many days a week? How many weeks of the semester does the meal plan cover?

Break it down on a per-meal basis, The Money for College Project blog suggested. Often, the unlimited plans will be much cheaper per meal than the most basic plans. If you have the option of opting out, this might ultimately prove to be your more economical option considering on average meal plans cost $7 to $10 a meal.