Is it possible to follow a vegan diet while at college? It’s not only possible: With a little planning, you can enjoy great vegan food—which involves avoiding not only meat but such animal-based products as eggs and dairy—during your college years.
What’s more, finding vegan food at colleges is likely to become easier over time.Sodexo Campus, a major dining facilities management company, has announced plans to increase plant-based meal offerings by 42% within the next few years.
Selecting a Vegan-Friendly School
It stands to reason that the more on-campus vegan options a school offers, the easier it will be for you to follow a plant-based diet while you’re there.
That means you should make finding a vegan-friendly school part of your college search process…especially if the schools you’re interested in require their first- and second-year students to join the meal plan.
Start by checking the websites of your target schools; if there’s no mention at all of vegan dining choices, that’s a definite red flag.
“At some schools, keeping a strict plant-based diet can be difficult, if not impossible,” saysForbes Magazine. “Many colleges still have traditional animal-based food offerings.”
When touring prospective schools, visit the dining halls and ask if you can purchase a meal; some will actually feature a station with all-vegan items. You may find that quality and the range of available selections varies considerably from one institution to the next.
Some schools have been recognized for their vegan-friendly status:
- George Washington University
- Stanford University
- University of California, Berkeley
- University of Florida
- University of Michigan
- Vanderbilt University
In addition, “there is a good chance that your college will have a vegan club,” says Certified Vegan Nutritionist Alena Schowalter on her websiteNutriciously. “You can check out online groups too (try Facebook) and go over toHappy Cow to find vegan-friendly places close to your college.” (Don’t forget to ask about on-campus restaurants as well.)
Vegan Eating in Dining Halls
Once you’re on campus, learn how to navigate the dining hall so you can enjoy a steady supply of tasty, varied meals.
For one thing, “talk to the dining hall staff,” advises Schowalter. “Let them know about your specific needs—being nice to the people who take care of all things food is a very good idea.”
She adds that if the food service folks seem open to suggestion, “you can share some of your favorite vegan recipes or cookbooks, or just come up with some ideas for inexpensive and easy-to-prepare vegan staple foods they could stock up on.”
Many schools will post the menu weekly or daily on their website or through an app; you may be able to filter out nonvegan items.
You can also pull together meals from other parts of the dining hall, such as veggies from the salad station with rice from the entree station. See if the facility has a section for students with food allergies…a great resource for dairy-free milk options.
It also helps to be flexible in terms of what you might expect to eat at certain times during the day: Instead of tofu scramble for breakfast, try creating a veggie wrap! You can also vary meals by, let’s say, sampling different flavors of hummus or different types of grains.
Finally, “if you have the option, choose a flexible meal plan that allows you to use the leftover cash value to buy your own food from the store,” says Schowalter.
Creating a Vegan-Friendly Dorm Room
Speaking of store-bought food: It helps if you can find a good natural food store somewhere close to campus. If you can’t, scope out what’s available at the local market.
“Stock up on healthy non-perishables: canned beans as well as nuts, trail mix, canned soup and granola,” suggests Schowalter. “If you can get your own mini-fridge it will be a game-changer! It can enable you to store lots of fresh items like fruits and veggies but also frozen produce or pizza.” Access to a microwave can further expand your snack choices.
Other staples to keep in your room include:
- Bread and crackers (whole grain)
- Dark chocolate
- Condiments such as salt, pepper, ketchup, mustard and hot sauce
- Fruit, including dried fruit
- Nut butters
- Vegan bars
Find yourself running from class to class with no time to stop for lunch? Get a lunchbox and create a meal from your supplies!
Vegan Cooking Off Campus
Have you moved to off-campus housing? Congratulations: Having a kitchen allows you to expand your choice of meals while providing a chance to develop your cooking skills (which is as valuable as anything you’re learning in the classroom).
- The Ultimate Plant-Based Cookbook 2023 by Gerard Tipton (independently published)
- Fast & Easy Vegan Cookbook by JL Fields (Rockridge Press)
- Epic Vegan Quick and Easy by Dustin Harder (Fair Wind Press)
- Fast Easy Cheap Vegan by Sam Turnbull (Appetite/Random House)
You can use your list of dorm-room staples as the basis of your vegan pantry, along with:
- Green salads
- Veggies for steaming
If you have to watch your spending, “make sure you only purchase what you need by planning ahead of time,” says Schowalter. “Write down a shopping list and stick to it, but remain flexible when you see special offers at the store.” (Nutriciously offers vegan meal planning tipshere.) She also recommends getting produce in season and buying nonperishables in bulk.
Sweet Potato Curried Cauliflower Soup
Soups are great meals for beginning cooks—you can throw together a salad or slice some bread while your entree simmers on the stove. And the best part is having leftovers, which makes the next day’s meal planning even easier.
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
½ tsp whole fennel seeds
½ tsp whole coriander seeds
5 tbsp olive oil, divided
¼ head cauliflower, chopped into coarse pieces
1 onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 piece (1” inch) candied ginger, finely chopped
1 large sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1” cubes
4 cups vegetable stock or water
2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
6 dates, coarsely chopped
1 tbsp curry powder
Yields: 4 servings
Source:The Vegan Cook’s Bible by Pat Crocker (Robert Rose)
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.