Living with a vegan diet, whether for health, personal or religious reasons, is rewarding but tough. For a college student with limited dining options, this diet can be overwhelming and nearly impossible to upkeep. However, by the end of this article you should feel better about the prospect of maintaining this diet, and maybe even a little excited to take on the task.
Becoming Vegan in College
The first step to vegan eating includes cutting some key ingredients out of your everyday diet. This is a huge change, and can be overwhelming considering all the other adjustments that you have to make during college. Besides talking to your doctor and making sure that this is a diet that your body can handle, here are some tips to make the transition a little easier:
Gradually Cut Dairy Products Out of Your Diet First, and Meat Second
I would recommend starting by cutting all of the really difficult stuff out of your diet first, like butter, eggs, milk and cheese. Most people try to start by cutting out meat and then transition from a vegetarian to vegan diet. This is entirely possible, but honestly, once you've gotten cheese out of your diet, the rest is easy.
Tell Friends About Your New Eating Habits
Make sure the people around you know they aren't allowed to offer you any of their bacon mac and cheese anymore. It's too tempting. You should also tell them not to let you cave and order that super great looking non-vegan meal when you all go out to eat together.
Get Rid of Any Non-Vegan Food you Have Stashed Around Your Dorm
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You don't want anything around that can distract you from your goal. That includes those cool ranch Doritos you were saving for a rainy day. Sorry.
This app will make finding vegan-friendly restaurants, or at least local restaurant menus, so much easier. Knowing beforehand exactly what you can eat at the place you're going out to with friends later is a big convenience.
College Vegan Dining Options
As a busy college student, it's nearly impossible to go out and keep buying fresh fruits and vegetables to prepare vegan meals yourself. If you're allowed to have a fridge in your dorm or rent one from your college, stock up on some pre-made vegan meals and snacks. Some of my favorites are:
The Hearty Veggie and Brown Rice Salad Bowl from Starbucks
There are Starbucks everywhere — especially near college campuses. They offer a hearty veggie and brown rice salad bowl complete with an array of vegetables, brown rice and a tangy lemon tahini sauce. It is 100 percent vegan and 100 percent amazing.
These pre-packaged meals, found in the organic/natural aisle of shopping centers, and include cooked quinoa on the bottom of the package and an interesting sauce on the top. You can eat these warm or cold, with as much sauce as you like. They come in a bunch of different flavors, like basil pesto and mango jalapeño. Quinoa is a great source of protein, and the best part about these meals is that they don't even need to be refrigerated until opened.
Always carry vegan energy bars with you, because you'll never know when it might be inconvenient to find another dairy and meat-free meal. Having these bars with you provide a little insurance to help you get through your day, as well as a quick burst of energy. Larabars taste amazing and come in flavors like chocolate chip cookie dough, apple pie, peanut butter and jelly and banana bread.
Whole Grain Bread with Nut Butter
Whole grain bread, rice cakes, crackers and tortillas are easy and filling foods to keep in your dorm, and nut butter (peanut, almond, etc.) is a good source of protein. So combine them, and enjoy a nice almond butter spread on some whole grain products for breakfast. The best part is that this snack will save room in your mini fridge, because nothing needs to stay cold.
Dried fruit, SkinnyPop popcorn (this is literally just made with popcorn, sunflower oil, and salt; it's amazing), Oreos, pretzels and peanuts are all vegan snack options that can help satisfy any midnight craving. You can even combine most of the things I just listed into one big, healthy trail mix.
Also, when it comes to eating in college, you're obviously going to make trips to your dining hall(s) often. These spaces often have more vegan options than you might think. Here are some ways to plan your trips to the dining hall carefully:
Go Online and See What Your College Offers
Usually, menus of dining hall staples offered daily can be found online. You should have the basics offered, like tofu, a salad bar, non-dairy milk and possibly some veggie burgers. Due to an increasing demand from students for more vegan and vegetarian options in dining halls, these meal options are expanding daily, so check back online often.
Make Yourself a Stir Fry
Basically, if your college has rice, steamed vegetables, tofu and some soy sauce you can layer all of these ingredients to throw together a quick and easy version of a stir fry.
Put Together a Super Hearty Salad
Most, if not all, college dining halls have a salad bar. You can pile together most things offered (other than cheese, obviously) to make a large, filling and refreshing meal. Edamame and green leafy vegetables are a great source of protein, and a balsamic vinaigrette dressing will help pull everything together.
Know the Difference Between Edamame and Lima Beans
Edamame or soybeans are a major source of protein and can be added to salads, pasta dishes or other mixed vegetables. Lima beans aren't as protein packed or tasty, but they can look pretty similar to the untrained eye. Just remember that lima beans are usually bigger and flatter than edamame, which are also green but have a rounder bean shape, and you should be good to go.
Find Some Comfort Foods
Staying at college for so long can leave you craving some warm, home-cooked meals. Find a combination of healthy foods that remind you of home. For example, roasted asparagus, squash and baked potatoes are all foods that, when warm, remind me of autumn family dinners. So, find your own little family reminders whenever you can in your dining hall to make your experience there ten times better.
Staying Vegan In College
Make it a Social Thing
Invite friends to this new meat and dairy-free restaurant you just discovered ten minutes away, or get them to try soy milkshakes from the vegan food truck that just started coming around. It'll give you all something to discuss, and your friends will get a new look into your daily lifestyle.
Think About Why You Started
Remembering your motivation to stay vegan is the most important part of staying vegan. It can be anything. Although, if you're going through a time where you can't really remember your motivation to lead a vegan lifestyle, and are feeling quite miserable about it, maybe it isn't really something you should be pursuing if you can help it. I'd really like to tell you, "Don't give up!" However, you should only be continuing this diet if it is making your mind and body feel healthier.
In general, a vegan diet should be a challenging way to make you get healthier and more creative with your food choices. Finding vegan options to replace your non-vegan favorites can actually be an interesting task, and it's always so exciting to find local vegan options you've never tried before. You might even make some new friends at the cute vegan cafe two blocks away from your school. You never know. Keep yourself open to new ideas, and get thrifty with it when need be, in order to have the best vegan experience possible.
Overall, college is a time to develop the lifestyles that you want to lead independently, whether that is by adapting to new friends, hobbies or diets. A vegan diet is an easy and fulfilling way to challenge yourself. The best part is that it's entirely possible for a college student to become and stay vegan, and the resulting healthy eating habits can last for the rest of one's life.