by Rae Coleman
Living on her own in college, Rae recognized that she naturally gravitated toward a vegetarian diet. An introduction to raw vegan cuisine sparked an interest in continuing her growth and learning, including the culinary arts and specific techniques pertaining to raw. The convenience of the location along with the uniqueness of the program eventually led to her enrollment at Natural Epicurean. Since completing the program, Rae has worked in bakeries, for retreats, and as a personal chef.
When most students think about heading off to college, they may think about trying to navigate around a new campus, how they’ll meet new friends, or if they’ll like their professors. Most don’t think about how they’ll survive college without gaining the Freshman 15 or the Sophomore 30. Living on campus can be especially challenging when healthy habits are prone to taking a backseat to everything else that college life demands. For students following a plant-based diet this can be especially challenging since many campus cafeterias have limited meatless options. Based on my own college experience, along with some additional insights from my brother, Steven (a current University of Texas Senior) and my Chef Instructor colleague Rhonda Baird, I present my top tips for our college readers. Use these pointers to stay focused on school without sacrificing your health.
Navigate Your (Mini) Kitchen Setup
Dorms and other on-campus living options come in a variety of configurations. Sometimes, you have a communal kitchen that you share with many other students. I experienced this at the first school I attended, Ithaca College. Communal kitchens can be problematic for students in that they are not always kept clean and often lack storage. Even if there is space, it’s unlikely that you will use it to actually store food or appliances, because you may never see them again. In this situation, having a small personal fridge and keeping pantry items in your room would prevent others from consuming them.
Other times, you will share a dorm with a roommate, several roommates, or have a room to yourself and have an apartment-style kitchen in the unit. This makes it much easier to work with fresher options and make food at home.
Although it may seem tricky, sticking to a plant-based diet in one of these living situations can be a breeze if you plan ahead.
Keep the Staples Simple
Always have cooked grains on hand. Bulk grains are very inexpensive and there are a lot of varieties to choose from–you don’t have to just eat brown rice! These are easy to make in a rice cooker, while steaming veggies simultaneously (most rice cookers come with a steam basket). Or you can make rice easily in a microwave (1 cup of rice to 2 cups of water. Cook on high about 15 to 18 minutes, or until the water is absorbed). Grains can be used in so many capacities once they are cooked, from a simple staple of rice and veggies to Sprouted Quinoa Curry Salad. Step out of the box and get creative!
Like the rice, always have cooked legumes on hand. They can be from BPA-free cans, or you can make them in a slow cooker or on the stove if you buy them in bulk (the latter option is a cheaper). Legumes and grains create complete proteins when eaten in the same day together and form the base of most meals around the world.
Remember the Uncooked Options
Smoothies are easy options if you have a blender. Keeping fresh or frozen fruits on hand along with your favorite greens and flax seeds can help curb your hunger throughout the day when used as a snack, or can be a great jumpstart to your morning for a quick breakfast. There are so many options when it comes to making smoothies, so mix it up and have fun! If you are at a loss for combinations, just look online or grab some inspiration from your favorite local juice shop.
While on the topic of using a blender, raw soups, salad dressings and dips are easy blended items to prepare and help stretch your budget.
Chia cereal is another quick breakfast idea that doesn’t require any cooking supplies outside of a bowl. Just combine chia seeds with water or milk (¼ cup chia seeds to 1 cup of liquid) and flavor according to your preferences. You can even make it overnight or for the whole week in one batch for a no-fuss breakfast.
Budget Friendly Variety
Having whole grain or gluten free pasta on hand is helpful and cost effective, since one 16 ounce box has 8 servings, coming out to about 19¢ a serving (for a $1.50 box of organic whole wheat pasta). You can make complete meals with pasta by dressing it in your favorite sauce with cooked greens and lentil or walnut meatballs (if you’re feeling fancy).
Tofu and tempeh are great, inexpensive protein options that are endlessly versatile. Serve these cooked in a variety of ways with fresh, frozen or canned veggies and some type of grain (tortillas, bread, rice, etc…) for nutritious complete meals that won’t break the bank.
Happy cooking and have a great school year!