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College Vegetarians & College Vegans: What to Eat in the Dining Hall

With one in five college students considering herself a vegetarian, campus dining halls can’t ignore the meatless masses. But can they provide tasty and healthy alternatives to chicken and beef? “We offer at least two vegetarian/vegan entree items at each meal,” says John Povermo, executive sous chef at Wellesley College. “We also offer one vegetarian soup for each meal.” “They try,” says Stephanie Buhle, a Wellesley senior who became vegetarian at 13, when her brother’s veganism caused her to realize she didn’t support the policies of meat processing plants. “I think it’s admirable that they try. They make things with tofu. If there’s a stir-fry with chicken, they’ll take it out for me. But then it’s just onions and peppers.” She finds herself often supplementing her meals with cereal and soymilk.

And that’s just it: there are plenty of eating alternatives for vegetarians on college campuses; they just don’t necessarily contain the proper nutrients. Pizza and veggie burgers are served almost everywhere, but these grease-soaked foods just add more starch and minimal amounts of protein to vegetarians’ diets. Of course, you could be like Molly Fitzpatrick, a junior at Harvard and also a vegetarian (“I’m a big softie for animals,” she says) who works at balancing her diet but is willing to throw a little more caution to the wind. “I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, veggie burgers, and a disproportionate number of desserts,” says Molly. “My ideal diet consists solely of cake and cookies anyway, so I'm doing okay.”
But what are the health concerns for vegans and vegetarians? Nutritionist Michele Sandone takes us through five components of a healthy diet that are often missed by vegans and vegetarians, and tells us how to make sure to fit them in—even in the campus dining hall.

Protein. “Protein can be an issue, but people think it’s more of an issue than it is,” says Michele. Still, protein is key to muscle repair and maintenance, so it’s important to supplement a vegetarian diet with protein sources like black beans, chickpeas, legumes, and quinoa, a grain. “Tempeh, tofu, those are all good sources of protein,” says Michele, but she cautions against the ‘chicken’ parmesan entrees some dining halls serve. “People rely so much on the meat analogs, the soy burgers and that kind of stuff. It’s still a processed a food; it’s not bad but it’s not good to overdo it.”

Iron. Iron comes in two forms, and the issue here for vegetarians is less about getting iron; it’s about getting the right form. Heme forms, which are easy for the body to absorb, are found only in meat sources such as turkey or beef. Plant sources of iron, such as spinach, only contain non-heme forms, which are tougher for the body to absorb. To prevent anemia, a decrease in red blood cells sometimes caused by iron deficiency, Michele recommends “eating things like Vitamin C, which increase the body’s ability to absorb iron.” Citrus foods such as oranges and grapefruit contain high amounts of vitamin C, as do certain vegetables like kale and broccoli.

B12. More of a problem for vegans than vegetarians, B12 is only found in animal products. Vegetarians can get it from dairy and eggs, but those who keep a strict vegan diet with no animal byproducts whatsoever are out of luck. Like iron deficiency, B12 deficiency can cause anemia. So what’s a vegan to do? “Take a supplement,” advises Michele.

Calcium. Calcium is also commonly missing from vegetarian diets; like B12, it’s more of an issue for vegans than vegetarians, since it’s found in dairy products like cheese, yogurt, and milk. But unlike with B12, a trip to the salad bar can help vegans get the necessary calcium to fight off losses in bone and teeth strength that cause osteoporosis and osteopenia. “Certain leafy greens, like broccoli, swiss chard, spinach, bok choy, and kale contain calcium,” says Michele. And current food trends have made even more calcium options available. “With the way the food supply is now, we’re fortifying a lot of stuff, so if you’re eating soymilk you’re getting calcium”.

Vegetables. Wait, what?!? “Surprisingly, most vegetarians and vegans are lacking in vegetables,” explains Michele. “They eat more starches, substituting meat in their diet with things like whole grains, starches, and cheese.” To avoid this, Michele recommends meal planning, especially for those just switching over to a vegetarian or vegan diet. “Try to aim for a more well-rounded diet and make sure there’s some vegetable,” she advises. This will help vegetarians avoid a common health trap, one that’s particularly easy to slip into in college: daily pizza consumption. So, vegetarians and vegans, listen to Michele and eat your vegetables! So what does a healthy, well-balanced vegan or vegetarian diet look like in college? Check out our sample daily meal plans below, approved by nutritionist Kelly Klacziewicz! These can help guide you to get you started on your own nutritious meatless munching!

Vegan: Breakfast Take a slice of whole wheat toast, spread on peanut butter, and add a few apple or banana slices. Pair with an orange or half a grapefruit. Lunch Head to the salad bar and combine broccoli, chickpeas, onion, and tomato. Use red wine vinegar and small amount of olive oil as dressing. Dinner Try a tofu and vegetable stir-fry (easily available if your college has a sauté station!) and pair it with a small portion of brown rice. Make a side salad using spinach as a base, adding your favorite vegetables and top with olive oil & vinegar or a low-fat vegan dressing.

Vegetarian: Breakfast Mix low or non-fat yogurt with low-fat granola. Top with berries or pair with half a grapefruit or an orange. Lunch Head to the salad bar and combine spinach, hard-boiled egg, tomato, onion, and cucumber for a vegetarian Cobb salad. Sprinkle on a small amount of feta cheese, and top with a low fat dressing. Dinner Try a Mexican dish like black bean and cheese quesadillas. These may be greasy, but try wiping off excess grease with a napkin. Pair with a side salad chock-full of your favorite veggies, but skip the cheese and croutons and use a low-fat dressing.

Sources: Molly Fitzpatrick, vegetarian and Harvard student Stephanie Buhle, vegetarian and Wellesley student John Povermo, Executive Sous Chef, Wellesley College Michele Sandone, RD and MS, owner of Innovative Nutrition Options LLC Kelly Klacziewicz , RD, UCSF Children’s Hospital http://www.lcsun-news.com/las_cruces-healthy_u/ci_13253943

Elana Altman adores alliteration, and thus is majoring in economics and minoring in English at Wellesley College, where she is a senior. At Wellesley, she’s co-editor-in-chief of Legenda, the yearbook, and has occasionally contributed to the monthly magazine Counterpoint and the weekly newspaper The Wellesley News. She’s originally from Glen Rock, NJ, which is 30 minutes from NYC and 15 minutes from 5 different malls. Currently, Elana's in Harrisburg, PA, where she’s a features intern for the Patriot-News. She’s previously interned at The Record and TWIST magazine. After college, she is considering moving to Los Angeles to fulfill her lifelong dream of getting a tan, though she wouldn't mind a job either. Elana enjoys anything with coffee in it, cooking, a few good TV shows, and a few too many terrible ones.
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