An Introduction to Peirce Hacks: Allergy Edition

Having dietary restrictions while trying to sustain oneself on dining hall food can make finding a good, balanced meal a little tricky.  I follow an anti-inflammatory diet that means I don’t eat gluten, meat, or dairy (though I do eat fish and eggs sometimes), and even when there’s an option that fits one of those categories, there’s often not one that accommodates all three.  I love to cook, and I make all sorts of things for myself at home, but at school, it’s not exactly practical, not to mention expensive when I’m already paying for an unlimited dining plan.

With only one dining hall at Kenyon, it makes sense that it can be hard to accommodate absolutely everyone, and sometimes if you ask, they have a gluten-free/vegan version of what’s available at each station.  But on the days when all you see on the menu that you can eat is “Fresh Vegetable Medley,” creativity has to kick in.

So, over the last year of eating at Pierce, I’ve come up with a few balanced solutions that are a touch more appealing than just having a plain salad every day.  Granted, the offerings change every day, so a lot of the time I throw pieces and parts of things together spontaneously, so this is by no means an exhaustive list.  I also threw in some basic tips for hunting down foods and making sure you hit every food group.  I hope that it can serve as an inspiration to anyone in need of a little plant-based happiness!

(Note: If you don’t have dietary restrictions, but are still looking to mix it up a little, this can serve as inspiration for you too!  Just make sure not to take allergen-free items away from those who actually need them. xoxo)

Let’s start with a few basic principles:

1. The rice cooker is your friend.

I’m a personal fan of the white rice, but there’s brown rice too, and it’s pretty much always there when you need a base carb.

2. Spinach is your friend.

This seems like a weird one, but seriously, I have built up a serious relationship with spinach here at Kenyon.  For my diet, I need to eat a lot of vegetables and make sure I’m getting all of my nutrients, like iron.  The nice thing about spinach is that it doesn’t really have a taste, so you can honestly throw it on ANYTHING.  (Except maybe dessert.  That could get a little weird.)  Usually, I throw it onto my breakfast dishes for a little pop of color, and like rice, it’s almost always available.

3. Keep an eye out for protein!  

I know that no one likes un-pressed, un-marinated tofu, but if there’s not a significant source of protein that you can have at any of the hot food stations, look to the salad bar for some beans (black, kidney, soy, etc.) and throw them on top.  They can go with pretty much anything, and protein is important for a healthy metabolism, keeping energy up, and making you feel like you actually ate something.  In the morning, I like to use the Sun Butter, but there’s also peanut butter you can use on Old Side, as long as you don’t take it into the servery!

4. Adding cooked items to a salad make it feel less… salad-y.

You know what I mean.  Sometimes salad tastes really good, but when it’s cold and rainy, or when you’re feeling a little down, you just want your pile o’ veggies to be cooked.  One way to do it is to take some salad bar veggies and cook them in the panini press.  BUT, usually, the Comfort and Vegetarian stations have some already-cooked veggies that I like to throw on top of my bed of greens to warm the whole dish up a little.

5. When in doubt, check out the allergy station.

The Gluten-Free and Vegan fridges are generally stocked with things like milk/cheese/butter alternatives, salad dressings, special breads, muffins, and even special treats that are quite tasty!  The allergy shelf is also a good place to get to know, and while certain items are fairly consistently there, like Sun Butter, Ginger Syrup, and GF crackers, sometimes it changes, so keep an eye out.  Plus there’s always cereal, and special allergy-friendly toasters and panini presses—just don’t bring over allergens from other stations, since cross-contamination can cause allergic reactions.

Now, I’m going to share a few of my go-to’s in anti-inflammatory Peirce hacks!  You’ll notice a lot of recurring ingredients (there’s only so much I have to work with, and I really, really like cinnamon), but with the right combination of flavors, you can fix yourself a tasty, unique dish of healthful yumminess!

Breakfast:

Oatmeal* + Sun Butter + Spinach + Banana Slice + Cinnamon

“Orange and Spice” Oatmeal* + Orange Slices + Ginger Syrup + Sun Butter + Cinnamon (optional rice crispies on top for crunch)

“Ginger Pear” Oatmeal* + Pear Slices + Ginger Syrup + Cinnamon (optional rice crispies on top for crunch)

Rice + Fried Egg + Spinach + Fried Plantains

Rice + Spinach + Fried Plantains + Sun Butter + Pineapple + Cinnamon

GF Bread (toasted) + Vegan Cheese + Fried Egg

*The oatmeal at Peirce is not actually certified gluten-free, so if you have celiac or are otherwise highly gluten-sensitive, I recommend using rice instead—a splash of rice milk can give it that nice creamy texture, though!

Lunch/Dinner:

Veggie Burger Salad:

Exactly what it sounds like—bonus points if there are sweet potato fries!  Burger varieties vary, but just pile on your favorite veggies and wistfully pretend that your salad greens are a bun…

Vegetable Chili 2.0:

Veggie Chili + White Rice + Black Beans + (optional) Vegan Cheese

Mediterranean Salad with Rice:

White Rice + Spinach + Black Beans + Cucumbers + Tomatoes* + Artichoke* + Hummus + Olive Oil & Balsamic Vinegar**

*Really good when cooked in the panini press!

**Unless it’s the vegan ranch/caesar in the allergy fridge, I like to make my own dressing so that I know exactly what’s in it, and there’s not a bunch of added sugar

GF/Vegan Enchiladas 2.0:

    GF/Vegan Enchilada + Lettuce + Refried Beans + Panini-Pressed Tomatoes + Vegan Ranch

DIY “Stir-Fry”:

White Rice + Lettuce + Panini-Pressed Veggies (Baby Corn, Water Chestnut, Red Pepper, etc.) + GF Soy Sauce + Edamame

Dessert:

White Rice + Ginger Syrup + Cinnamon + (optional) Banana

Vegan Vanilla Yogurt + Rice Chex + Fruit of Choice and/or Honey

 

As I said, this is by no means an exhaustive list, but I hope anyone reading finds it to be a good starter guide to navigating dietary restrictions at Peirce.  Obviously everyone’s needs are different, and most ingredients can be easily substituted based on need and availability.  Maybe one day, getting my meals won’t require such creativity quite so often, but until then, I plan to do my best at enjoying the journey of personalizing my plate!

Image Credit: Feature, 1, 2, Writer’s Own