Vegan in College: How to Get Enough Food


Being an occasional visitor of /r/vegan, this is a common question I see: How do I get enough food on a vegan diet while I'm in college? Having been vegan my whole life, eating a plant-based diet while getting the nutrition I need isn’t much of a puzzle. For those vegans just starting out, figuring out what to eat when you have access to your parent’s pantry is hard enough, let alone rummaging up food while away at college.

To that end, this post is geared toward fairly new vegans who have to split cooking time with hitting the books – having been a vegan through a few years of college, I hope I can share a helpful hint or two. The limited appliances can pose a unique challenge (i.e., a mini fridge you share with your roommate and a stovetop with a permanent, odoriferous patina two floors down), but let's give it the ol' college try.

Where can you get your food? Different colleges have different options, so I’ll use a conservative example. Your dining hall may have some vegan options, but if they do it’s usually only one or two main dishes to choose from. If they have rice, some sort of vegan dish with tofu or beans and whatever veggies you can find, you’ve got yourself a meal. You may find you have even fewer options depending on the time of day – breakfast can sometimes be a tricky time to get a nutritious plate of food together, and you may find yourself stuck with the same rice, beans and veggies option, if anything.

For someone who prefers a lighter breakfast, this is a good time to consider what foods you can and would like to store in your dorm room. Fruits are a good choice to stock up on, because they don’t require refrigeration, and they can be eaten with peanut butter (or your favorite nut butter) for some added energy. If you have a microwave, you could cook yourself a bowl of oatmeal, or you could prep some overnight oats to keep in your minifridge the night before.

If you aren’t in walking distance to a grocery store, stocking up on food gets a little trickier. Many campuses have their own small grocery stores, but these are often very limited. Alternatively, you could see about receiving medium-large packages in your dorm’s mailroom. Online food shopping can be a little more expensive, but you can often find some good prices when buying in bulk.

If you find you can’t pack in enough calories from your dining hall’s offerings, pasta can be a handy purchase because it doesn’t take a lot of time away from your studying, and you only need a pot to boil water (if you’re careful, you can use the lid to strain the pasta). You can even experiment with brown rice, red lentil, and black bean pastas if you’re looking for a healthier option.

In the interest of good health, dining halls usually have options for fruits and vegetables regardless of their vegan catering. So it’s usually not an issue of packing in micronutrients, but rather an issue of having enough access to foods that meet your caloric and macro needs. In fact, most often when I see people pondering how to get enough food while at college, it’s in the context of packing on a few pounds while taking advantage of their free gym access – not an impossible task as a vegan.

When balancing your academic life with getting in shape, one of the biggest concerns is time. This precious resource can make it difficult to consume enough calories every day to meet your goals. My suggestion? Look into adding a high-speed blender to your culinary arsenal – just be sure not to wake up your roommates while baking up your smoothie masterpieces. Not only do you save time preparing your blender meal, but you also save time eating it. Say goodbye to chewing, at least for one of your meals.

Another perk of adding a liquid meal to your day is that you can consume a lot more calories while not feeling like you’ll burst at the seams – liquid calories just don’t register in your brain the same as a big plate of food, and you’ll find that you can eat again much sooner after downing a shake. The high-speed blender gives you a lot more options when compared to cheaper blenders; you can achieve a lot more variety in your recipes, blending up fibrous foods like carrots, ginger or kale to a silky-smooth consistency in seconds.

However, I wouldn’t recommend blending up everything you can lay your hands on, simply because that can get a little boring. If you’re looking for a snack that gives a little more filling satisfaction, try stocking up on some vegan trail mix or munch on some fresh fruits and veggies.

As another option, both quick and versatile, I’d like to introduce you to one of my personal favorites: the can of beans. Canned beans are easy to store for long periods of time, and they require very little preparation – just rinse them thoroughly. By centering one of your meals around a can of beans, you can easily add in some extra minerals and other nutrients. Most canned beans provide nutrition facts per 1/2 cup servings, less than a third of the can. For your convenience, here's what you can expect from your typical can of beans:

Nutrient Amount per 15oz can Recommended Daily Amount
Calories 380
Total Fat 1 g
Sodium 320 mg 14% (less when rinsed)
Total Carb. 70 g
Dietary Fiber 17.5 g 63%
Protein 24.5 g
Calcium 147 mg 15%
Iron 8 mg 40%
Magnesium 147 mg 36%
Zinc 2 mg 20% (12% for vegans)
Potassium 1298 mg 32%

The simplicity with which you can prepare this can of beans really comes down to what you feel comfortable eating. Some people go all out and make a big pot of chili or baked beans to eat for the next few days. Others toss some barbecue sauce on a can of garbanzos and dig in. A well-kept vegan secret is to add a can of cannellini or white kidney beans to your shake – these varieties do little to alter the flavor and they provide one of the quickest methods for ramping up your food intake.

As you can see, you have a lot of options when it comes to saving time while eating to your heart’s desire. It’s not really a mystery: Just make sure you have easily prepared snacks and meals on hand. If you have any questions or concerns, please leave a comment below. I’d be happy to offer more advice on eating vegan while at college or just when you’re strapped for time.

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