A college campus dining hall can be the most intimidating setting for a new vegetarian embarking on a plant-based journey.
The cafeteria’s common buffet style can seem like the frontlines of war when one’s stomach is growling, awaiting reprieve from a day’s hunger. The tempting aroma of onion-fried hamburgers and freshly cooked chicken breast can pose enough of a threat to make you want to reach for your white flag.
Let’s be honest. Even the salad bar often approaches with guns loaded, heaped with an array of deli meats, bacon bits and other assorted meats. But there are an abundance of ways to hold your ground and maintain a plant-based lifestyle under the constraints of college life.
Meal Plans Are Your Friend
Meal plans are not the enemy. If you are lucky enough to dorm in an apartment-style building, then you might have a kitchen fully equipped to avoid the dark corners of the college café. Not everyone has access to their own kitchen; however, the chances of surviving with a vegetarian lifestyle on campus is just as high as someone who does have one.
According to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), a 2018 study revealed that two-thirds of college campuses in the United States are offering vegan meal options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Regardless of the type of meal plan you have or what school you attend, all dining halls offer at least one vegetarian option. Whether that option includes salad or a plain veggie burger, it is up to you to channel your inner Van Gogh and get creative.
Ask for ingredients to prepare meals on the spot such as grilled vegetable wraps, tofu scramble or ramen noodles on steroids. Dress up the college classic with seasonings you love, with protein substitutions like eggs and more veggies.
Other students will look at you with either empathy or curiosity, but either way you will have a delicious and customized meal to enjoy.
Preparation Is Always Key
Between maintaining decent grades and getting involved on campus, college is hard. There is no need for your diet to be difficult to uphold as well, so convenience is an ultimate factor in deciding what to bring to school.
Come to campus prepared to make meals outside of the dining hall because there will always be moments when you feel hungry. Packaged snacks such as nuts or protein bars are good on the go, but you will need the proper tools to make healthy options right in your dorm room.
Some campuses have restrictions on what appliances are allowed in dorm rooms. Always adhere to the rules, but the following kitchen appliances aid in moments when you need them most: a microwave, a personal blender, a rice cooker and lots of Tupperware.
While these implements may be used for such, they are not limited to cooking frozen foods. Students can make simple, healthy vegetarian meals like rice and beans, coffee mug desserts and more.
Shopping Local Will Save You Time and Time again
Shopping at the local grocery store will save both your time and your health. Local grocery stores often sell produce at lower rates than a traditional supermarket chain. Not to mention, the items are often fresher and sourced from sustainable agriculture.
According to One Green Planet, “A lot of the time, buying local, organic produce from a local farmer … is cheaper than buying it in a conventional grocery store. In conventional grocery stores, sometimes it will say that the produce is ‘organic’ and ‘local,’ but if you take the time to look further into where it actually comes from, there are still chemicals on the produce to preserve its look, (so it can travel more distance and remain looking fresh), and some hike up prices because of the label.”
Not to mention, shopping at a local business can help to build the local economy, while protecting the environment from waste at the same time.
If you cannot shop at a local grocery store, there are tons of alternatives to use in order to save money. Always download the grocery store app to gain access to exclusive deals and sales. There are also helpful apps like Ibotta or Shopkick, which offer rewards and discounts for particular retailers.
Take Inspiration From Social Media
As a vegetarian college student, I can relate to looking in the fridge and not knowing what to cook. It can be overwhelming to make a quick meal while attempting to eat responsibly.
But one thing that aids in spicing up your basics and staples is finding inspiration elsewhere.
There are millions of vegetarian and vegan cookbooks to source recipes from, but, as a student, everyone is always on a time crunch, which is why social media is the best tool one can use.
College vegetarians are a dime a dozen, so finding relatable material in a pinch on Instagram is a piece of cake. Find an account that appeals to you the most and try recreating some of the recipes with a few friends.
Late Night Munchies Can Still Be A Thing
Heading out for a bite to eat after midnight is not uncommon for a college student, and, because most restaurants are closed, you will most likely end up at a fast food chain to satisfy those late night cravings.
Tons of restaurants currently offer meat alternatives such as Beyond Meat and Morning Star, but the menu can go beyond veggie burgers. Always conduct a thorough research on a restaurant beforehand to get the best results on a night out.
A few fast food restaurants that offer vegetarian options are Burger King, McDonalds, Nathan’s, Taco Bell, Popeyes, White Castle (the Impossible Slider is the best vegetarian option on the menu) and Johnny Rockets.
These restaurants are not the healthiest options out there, but you can feel free to indulge occasionally and know there are dozens of options available for vegetarians.