College students are concerned enough when it comes to campus fare. Unless they have a decent cafeteria or plenty of other eating options, they have to get a little creative. That being said, it’s doubly hard for vegetarian or vegan students with balanced diets on the brain. Here are some tips that I’ve gathered that don’t require tallying, measuring or worrying to ensure balanced meals.
Look for variety. It seems obvious, although when I became a lacto-ovo (dairy and egg eating) vegetarian, I caught myself reaching for the cheese-laden pastas first. According to the “vegetarian food pyramid,” much of a vegetarian diet should be fruits and vegetables. Don’t like many of either? Add juices or smoothies with fruit and veggie ingredients to your starch intake. Brands like Odwalla and Naked Juice include vitamins and proteins in their smoothies. Grain portions should come second to fruits and vegetables.
Something I do while standing in the lunch line is look for plenty of colors. I pick something yellow or beige, red, and green, and grab a large glass of water. It’s a pretty plate to look at, and it ensures at a glance I’m getting a variety of different nutrients.
It’s time for a blurb about common sense. Three meals aside, it’s quite easy to eat common snacks while avoiding meat byproducts. At night when my cravings hit, I reach for health-conscious options: honey-nut granola, bananas, peanut butter or popcorn. I suggest foods of the nut variety, or snacks with enough protein, to keep you from munching through your entire all-nighter.
Not a lacto-ovo vegetarian — simply vegan? Keep in mind the obvious need for plenty of fruits and vegetables, and add components of nuts, tofu and soy. Tofu gets a bad rap, but its adaptable properties let people prepare it in a variety of different styles and flavors. Tofu and soy products contain massive amounts of protein for both vegetarians and vegans, and are easy to come by when considering my next suggestion…
…Don’t be afraid of meat and dairy substitutes! Freezer-aisle brands like Morningstar have a large variety of false meats, each usually made from soy or tofu. These products taste remarkably like their meat counterparts (thanks to the tofu), and include vegetables you may not touch in the grocery store or your school’s cafeteria. The same goes for dairy products. Many dairy-free cheeses are made from rice, and there are plenty of dairy-free milks made of almonds or soy. Either way, the combination of as many different meatless foods as possible will benefit your health. If you’re a pescetarian (fish-eating vegetarian), look for fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids. A cheap college find in this arena would be your average canned tuna. Those with more flexible budgets should look for salmon or mackerel.
I’ll conclude by touching on easy finds with plenty of vitamin B12. There’s no question that B12 is a necessary staple to anyone’s diet, and it is accessible to vegetarians and vegans — all you have to do is be wise. For lacto-ovo vegetarians, good sources of B12 are eggs (with their yolks), milk and yogurt. While some fruits, vegetables and fish have trace amounts of B12, I strongly encourage pescetarian and vegan students to invest in a vitamin supplement. Your body can retain B12 for years after transitioning to a vegetarian diet, but for long-run vegetarians B12 deficiency is a serious risk — and well worth one tablet a day.
I hope these suggestions help your food choices, whether or not you’re grocery shopping or sticking it out on a meal plan. Time to de-stress about diets and spend more time focusing on being in college!
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