How to eat vegan as a college student

How to eat vegan as a college student

Is it possible to eat vegan while at college? Contributor Amanda Reza is vegan, and here's how she stays healthy and eats (a lot).

Above, Amanda’s vegan waffle. Photo by Amanda Reza.

Like many vegans, I am often asked what I eat. The answer: a lot.

Vegans only eat foods that come from plants. I don’t eat any animal or animal-derived products: no meat, dairy or eggs.

Despite being a college student on a budget, and having limited dorm kitchen supplies, I rarely have trouble figuring out what to eat. You do not have to buy special food to stay healthy as a vegan. Here are some tips I use to maintain my diet.

Know your staples.

Having a few versatile ingredients can help you turn a limited pantry into a feast.

Grains can make any meal hardy. Rice and beans are an ultimate combination that is both cheap and simple. A stir fry rice is easy to make with any available vegetables. Mixing peanut butter, hot water and a dab of maple syrup can make simple homemade thai peanut sauce I enjoy having with fried rice. Stuffing tomatoes, bell peppers or zucchini with rice, couscous or bulgur creates many different satisfying meals, too.

Pasta dishes do not need cheese to feel comforting. You can add chopped mushrooms or eggplant to a basic tomato sauce if you want to get fancy. For Alfredo pasta fans, blended cauliflower, avocado, or tahini can build the base of a creamy sauce. For an Asian dish, make or buy a teriyaki sauce, peanut sauce or ginger soy sauce to flavor many pasta or dinner recipes.

Choose a favorite green leafy vegetable, such as spinach or kale, and use it to build endless salads. You can add lots of things to your salads: roasted vegetables, avocado cubes, tortellini pasta, olives or nuts. For a different twist, add something sweet, like cranberries or apple chunks. Dress your salad with olive oil, balsamic vinegar or (cheese-free) Italian dressing. I like to picture an elaborate salad bar as inspiration for creating different salad meals.

A slice of bread or two can create many combinations. Spread hummus, guacamole or peanut butter on your bread. Despite its cliche reputation, avocado toast can be a filling and satisfying meal. When I make avocado toast, I top it with olive oil, cajun seasoning, black pepper and chia seeds. Adding bold ingredients like sautéed onions or grilled tempeh can make a sandwich fancy.

Amanda’s rice and beans. Photo by Amanda Reza.

Know your substitutes.

It’s sometimes hard to find vegan recipes. Instead, make non-vegan recipes vegan-friendly with some easy substitutes.

Instead of dairy milk, use almond, soy, coconut or rice milk.

Instead of butter, mash bananas or avocado. I like to use banana when making something sweet and avocado when making something savory. I’ve found that a little less than one banana is equal to one stick of butter.

Instead of cream cheese, top bagels with hummus. Instead of ricotta or mozzarella, use tofu. Instead of Parmesan cheese, use nutritional yeast.

Instead of eggs, use flax meal, chia seeds or a baking soda and white vinegar mixture.
For flax meal, mix 1 tablespoon flax meal with 3 tablespoons hot water. A 1 to 1 ratio of chia seeds and hot water works well to replace eggs and is great in adding an extra crunch for some recipes like French toast. For a more fluffy or airy texture, mix baking soda and white vinegar at a 1 to 1 ratio.

Instead of meat, use vegetables. (No, really!)
A thick slice of eggplant or shiitake mushroom can make the base of a juicy burger. Use tofu or champignon mushrooms instead of chicken in stir fries, curries or grilled dishes. Seaweed works well as a substitute for bacon since it’s crispy and salty.

Know your restaurants.

Not all restaurants will cater to vegan needs. Knowing which places will carry vegan food or accommodate dietary restrictions helps when planning an outing with friends.

When dining at a Mexican restaurant, there are many bean or veggie dishes available. Mediterranean cuisine is chock full of vegan choices: falafel, hummus, grape stuffed leaves, tabouli, pita and eggplant. Many asian restaurants carry General Tso’s tofu or a garlic vegetable dish. Many burger places are starting to carry veggie burgers to accommodate their non-meat eating audience.

Research restaurants before you go to see if they’re vegan friendly. Look at menus online or call the restaurant to see if they can made accommodations. Sometimes, I have to ask a server for a change, like asking for a veggie enchilada without cheese. If I can’t find a vegan entree, I look for sides, appetizers and salad bars.

At N.C. State, there are many vegan choices if you know where to look. Dining halls provide one vegan meal for lunch and dinner each day. The allergy sections in the dining halls carry non-dairy milk, granola, and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Captain Crunch — which is vegan! — is served a the cereal bar. Look at the N.C. State dining page to determine what vegan items are available on campus. For my sweet tooth, Yates Mill Bakery in Talley carries vegan cupcakes.

Amanda Reza
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