Following the end of my freshman year of college, I decided to stop eating meat. I never really ate it much anyway and after leaving the dorms and the boundaries of the illustrious Local Point, I was able to regain some control over my diet and meal options. I made the decision based almost entirely off of my personal preferences — what I just liked and didn’t like to eat.
My sophomore year I took Professor Kristi Straus’ ENVIR 239: Sustainability, Personal Choices, and Broad Impacts. It got me thinking a lot about my decision to go vegetarian and the environmental impacts of the different foods that I consume. I’d of course always heard the vegetarian and vegan diets are more earth-friendly, but I’d never really taken the time to consider why. It turns out that a person’s meat consumption makes up a significant portion of their indirect water usage (the water that is used to create the goods and services that we enjoy). In fact, adopting an entirely plant-based diet can cut an individual’s water footprint in half!
But here’s what I also know: buying fresh fruits and vegetables, dedicating time to your meals, and eating a potentially low-protein diet can be tough for a college student. It’s important to also prioritize saving money, keeping your body energized and managing your time. As a vegetarian college student who hopes to minimize her environmental footprint without going completely broke, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite easy meatless meals that have yet to run my bank account dry:
- Vegetable fried rice: I absolutely love this meal and make it at least once a week. It is perfect for meal prep and is a great dish to have on hand during your busiest weeks. You’ll need rice (I prefer to use brown rice for a hardy nutty flavor, but white rice works fine, too!), your favorite vegetables (I like to use broccoli, carrots, onions, bean sprouts), a few cloves of garlic, a couple of eggs, tofu and Trader Joe’s soyaki (or whatever sauce makes you happy). While the rice is cooking, chop up your veggies and toss them in the skillet at medium heat. After about 10 minutes, pour in your rice. While that’s getting nice and crispy, chop up some tofu and grab a few handfuls of bean sprouts to stir fry in a smaller skillet at medium heat. In your rice and veggie pan, make some room to crack and scramble two eggs into your mixture. Finally, combine your skillets in a large bowl and season with soyaki! All of these ingredients can be found at H-Mart on the Ave (minus the TJ’s soyaki, though I’m sure you could find something nearly identical there).
- Tofu yakisoba stir fry: This dish is also a great fast meal prep option. I prefer to use the yakisoba noodles from H-Mart which comes in a massive bag (which doesn’t always make my roommates too pleased…). Steam up your noodles and broccoli while you stir fry some bean sprouts and chopped tofu in a pan at medium heat. I like my tofu on the softer side so it usually takes only five minutes to cook, but if you like yours a little more crispy, take as long as you want! Combine your noodles, broccoli, tofu and bean sprouts, and mix with soyaki. Simple as that.
- Lemon vegetable pasta: For this recipe, you’ll need zucchini, roma tomatoes (or whatever kind suits you), spinach, half a lemon, garlic or garlic powder, TJ’s tofurkey sausage, a pasta of your choice and butter. Start out by bringing water to a boil in a medium saucepan and throwing in your pasta (I like TJ’s quinoa spaghetti pasta because it comes out extra creamy, but anything works). Next, heat up some olive oil in a non-stick skillet and toss in your chopped zucchini and thinly sliced tomatoes, seasoned with salt, pepper and garlic. In another skillet, fry up some of your tofu sausages with some olive oil to your preferred crispiness. When you zucchini and tomatoes start to look soft, toss in some handfuls of spinach (always more than you think) and top the skillet with a lid. When your pasta is ready, combine all of your ingredients and mix with butter and lemon juice (and top with parmesan if you’d like!).
- Vegetable lasagna: This meal has perhaps the lengthiest cook time, but it is a great meal prep option that can be easily frozen. You’ll need: bell peppers, mozzarella, marinara sauce, cottage cheese, lasagna noodles, zucchini and spinach. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees and bring water to a boil in a large pot for your noodles. Chop up your zucchini and peppers and sauté them at medium heat in a skillet, adding your spinach last. Shred your mozzarella (if you got it in ball form) and grab a casserole dish (I have a 9×9 but however you want to Tetris your lasagna is fine — it’ll taste good regardless). Spread some marinara at the bottom of your dish and place 2-3 noodles to cover it (or however many you need). Add some more marinara, some of your veggies, cottage cheese and mozzarella, and continue layering in this order until you’ve either run out of ingredients or reached the top of your dish! Bake in the oven for an excruciating 45 minutes and then wait at least another excruciating 20 before you dig in. This one’s a little more time consuming, but I guarantee your future self will thank you when you have enough lasagna to last you a week.
- Sweet potato quinoa bowl: This is a simple and filling autumn meal that is a perfect digestive reset after a long week. Start by shaving and chopping up half a sweet potato, tossing it with olive oil, salt and pepper, and sending it into the oven at 400 degrees. If you have a rice cooker, pour in half a cup of quinoa and roughly 2/3 of a cup of vegetable broth and put your setting on “white rice” (if you don’t have a rice cooker, do the same on the stove with a saucepan on low to medium heat). I’ve used tofu or tofurkey sausage in this bowl. Either can be chopped up and sautéed in olive oil on a small skillet with some spinach. When your sweet potatoes are done (which will usually take the longest) combine all ingredients in a bowl and you’re done. If you have brussel sprouts around, these can be great to roast as well!
- Avocado toast with fried egg: When I’m on the hungrier side in the morning, this is a perfectly filling meal to start my day. You’ll need: two eggs, an avocado, TJ’s “everything but the bagel” seasoning, bread and some parmesan cheese. I start by heating up a bit of olive oil in a small skillet at medium heat and popping two slices of bread in the toaster. When your pan is heated, crack your eggs and get them frying (I find eggs with runny yolks disgusting, but do whatever suits you I guess). When your bread is toasted, spread your avocado and sprinkle some “everything but the bagel” seasoning over the top (a true game changer). When your eggs are cooked to your desire, slide them onto your pieces of toast and top with pepper, salt and a tiny bit of shredded parm.