How to Eat Vegan in a College Dining Hall

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By: Riley Loftus

We all know that being a college student can, at times, be stressful and demanding. College can pose many difficulties from balancing a healthy and active lifestyle to tackling a challenging course load and having a social life. However, maintaining a whole-food plant-based – commonly known as vegan - lifestyle doesn’t have to be one of your concerns. With the right amount of knowledge you will find that eating vegan in the dining hall is easier than expected. Since transitioning to veganism a few months ago I have accumulated several helpful tips for navigating through the college D-hall.

1. Do Your Research

Look online at your campus’ dining website to see what vegan products they offer. If you can’t find information online don’t be afraid to ask your dining hall staff! Most would be more than happy to assist you. They may even whip you up a special meal that caters to your dietary needs. You can also take your time when browsing around the D-hall to pick out the best choices for vegans. You’d be surprised at how many vegan options you will find!

*For instance, many universities are starting to offer dairy free milk alternatives, such as almond, rice, or soymilk. Another thing to keep in mind is while most foods are clearly vegan, some are not that easy to decipher. Breads and cereals are two examples that can pose serious questions. Therefore, be sure to do your research so you can be positive that what you are eating is in fact free of animal products.

2. Be Creative

Absolutely every morning I’m guilty of consuming oatmeal for breakfast. I am a self-proclaimed oatmeal addict, but with the versatility of oats I never find myself getting bored. Everyday I’m able to add new toppings to give standard oats a little twist. A few of my favorite toppings include banana, apple slices, nuts, mixed berries, peanut butter, or sometimes all of the above. The possibilities are endless; so get creative with your meals! If your dining hall offers vegan bread then spread on some peanut butter and add banana slices or strawberries to liven up your toast. Add different steamed vegetables to your rice to keep your taste buds guessing. Incorporating new foods into your daily staples help to combat repetition and boredom. 

3. The Salad Bar is Your Friend

Going along with the creativity aspect – shake up your salads with different toppings. Every college dining hall should have a salad bar. When eating vegan this will likely become your favorite place to hangout. With tons of add-ons you’ll be able to create a fresh, new, and exciting salad everyday. From tomatoes, carrots, peppers, and cucumbers to beans, chickpeas, tofu, and dried cranberries, there are a variety of options to spice things up.

5. Starches Save the Day

Since most plant based foods are low calorie, it’s essential to make sure you are consuming enough food throughout the day. If you find yourself struggling to incorporate calorie dense foods then look no further! Starches such as rice, grains, and pasta will surely do the trick. Also, some vegetables like sweet potatoes, white potatoes, and squash can provide efficient fuel for your body. This may come as a shock, but even beans and lentils tend to have high starch content as well.

6. Plant-Based Protein

If you’re vegan then you know the most common question we get asked is, “Where do you get your protein?” I can’t count the number of times I get asked this and to answer the question: So many places! A few protein packed foods include beans, legumes, tofu, tempeh, nuts, seeds, and believe it or not vegetables! Veggie burgers, quinoa, and streamed veggies are also great ways to obtain plant-based protein at the D-hall. With every meal, try to sneak in some form of protein to keep you satisfied throughout the day.

8. Never Leave Empty Handed

Some University dining halls are more lenient than others, but I for one never leave the without grabbing a piece of fruit for the road. Snatch up a banana, apple, or orange on your way out of the dining hall to combat afternoon hunger. Especially on those days when you have back-to-back classes, you will need a snack to please your growling stomach. An easily accessible piece of whole fruit will certainly tide you over until you venture back to the dining hall for your next meal.

7. Stock Up On Snacks

On the days when the dining hall fails us vegan - and that does happen - it’s necessary to have a back up plan. If there is a mini fridge in your dorm room you can load up on fresh fruits and veggies along with dips, such as hummus and salsa. In addition, you can keep your room filled with nonperishable foods such as granola, vegan protein bars, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Also, nut butters are an excellent way to get in some extra protein and healthy fats. Not to mention, who doesn’t love a spoonful of peanut butter? Pair it with a banana and you have a quick dorm room snack that you can enjoy in no time.

 

Maintaining a vegan lifestyle in college doesn’t have to be as challenging as people think. As veganism grows in popularity, college dining halls are offering more and more vegan options. With an unlimited meal plan and a vast selection of food to choose from, the D-hall can be overwhelming. However, these tips will help guide you to succeed with a whole-food plant-based diet in college.

 

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