How to Survive Being a Vegetarian at UConn

Being a vegetarian at UConn is easy. However, being a healthy vegetarian at UConn is a whole different story. I have been a vegetarian for my whole life, and am pretty accustomed to a fridge stocked with meat substitutes at home and a whole kitchen at my disposal to prepare protein-packed, healthy vegetarian meals. However, the adjustment to a dining hall diet at UConn has been difficult to say the least. The dining halls here always have options for vegetarians and vegans (which they love to advertise). However, these options aren’t always the healthiest (the ever-present grilled cheese at South for example) or even enjoyable to eat (not everyone likes vegetarian “cutlets” - I’m not sure what those are even made of). It is so easy to fall into the carb and sugar trap of vegetarianism: a diet consisting of pasta, bread, and desserts. However, with a little effort, it is very possible to be a healthy vegetarian, even in the UConn dining halls. Here are a few tips I’ve accumulated throughout my time here so far. 

The menus are your best friend.

Since UConn is such a big campus, we are lucky enough to have 9 different dining halls, each with their own specialties. This can be a bit overwhelming, especially since all of the different dining halls have their own menus each day of the week (the menus can be found on the website here). To make checking the menus much more convenient, there is actually an app called ChewConn that allows to easily check all of the menus from your phone. ChewConn even has a “favorites” feature that allows you to favorite a certain dish, and it will pop up as a star anytime a dining hall is serving that food. Checking the menus is going to be your biggest asset as a vegetarian eating in the dining halls. At the beginning of the day, I usually check which dining halls have the most vegetarian options because nothing is worse than showing up for dinner to find there is nothing for you to eat. Most times, it’s worth adding a couple extra minutes to your midday lunch walk for a healthy meal that you actually enjoy!

Protein. Protein. Protein.

We’ve all heard it, the classic response when you tell someone you’re a vegetarian: “But where do you get your protein?” Most people don’t realize that there are plenty of sources of protein that are not fish or meat. However, it does become more difficult to get the proper amount of protein when your options are limited in a dining hall. When you don’t consume enough protein, you don’t feel as full after meals and usually feel very tired as the day goes on. It is always good to keep high-protein snacks such as nuts, yogurt, peanut butter, and cheese sticks in your dorm. Additionally, check the menus and scour the dining halls to make sure you get protein with every meal! Dining halls usually have chickpeas, tofu, beans, cheese, and peanut butter, which are great additions to a meal to add a little protein. Even though it may be scary, the meat substitutes such as plant-based chicken can be a great addition to a meal as well.

Putnam Smoothies

The Putnam Smoothie Bar is legendary, and while it may be a hike to get there, it is so worth it. However, not every smoothie at Putnam is healthy (fruit and juice have a lot of sugar). The best way to maximize the health benefits of your smoothie is to add some taste-neutral nutrients. My personal favorite addition is kale, as the superfood is nearly tasteless in the smoothie but has tremendous health benefits. Putnam also offers a plant-based pea protein mix, which doesn’t have that chalky protein powder taste, and adds some protein to your diet!

Be Adventurous

Eating the same things everyday can be monotonous and just plain boring - not to mention your body isn’t getting much of a variety of nutrients. The key to keeping your vegetarian diet exciting is trying new things. The dining halls often have international food and they sometimes try out new recipes. You never know if you’ll like something until you try it, and as long as it has that green ‘V’ for vegetarian, you could even find your new favorite food. Since I’ve been here, I’ve tried a variety of new foods like Indian food, different types of salads, and a variety of meat substitutes (some of which I’ve added to my ‘favorites’ in the ChewConn app!)

It’s okay to have a bad day

Not everyday is not going to be your day. Whether the dining hall doesn’t have many vegetarian options, or you’re just craving some comfort mac ‘n cheese, its okay to carb out and eat unhealthy sometimes. The important thing is not to get too hard on yourself, and to just be aware of what you’re eating.

Adjusting to the college diet and avoiding the “Freshman 15” is hard for anyone, but can be especially hard if you’re not eating meat. Whatever your reasons for being a vegetarian, your body, the environment, the economy, and the animals thank you. Keep doing you and eat yo' veggies!