I've never been one of those people who responds to mention of a plant-based diet with, "But bacon is so good!” Despite this, I was skeptical about the word “vegan."
The lifestyle, the political and social connotations, and the somehow inexplicable concept of cutting out all animal products were baffling to me.
When it comes to dieting, I've run the gamut. I come from a past of eating disorders, and I've tried a million quick fixes to drop pounds.
I've tried the South Beach Diet, the Atkins diet, the grapefruit-and-toast diet, the low-carb and low-fat diet and the restriction diet (eat anything, but everything in moderation). Two weeks ago, I was standing on the other side of all these failed attempts, almost in tears, at the breaking point of frustration. What more did I have to do to lose weight and keep it off?
Like a true Millennial, I turned to YouTube. There, I found an incredible community of vegan and plant-based advocates. I learned about the ethics behind a vegan diet, and also the science. Here was a lifestyle transformation where I could eat whole foods in abundance. Fruit, my once-feared enemy, could become my friend once again.
I cut meat and dairy a few weeks ago, and I haven't looked back since. Below are my tips and tricks for navigating, purchasing and eating each meal of the day on your college campus:
Start the day with a fully raw breakfast (if you're following high-carb, low-fat, like me). Once you get out onto campus and in the midst of the cafeterias, making smart choices gets tricky.
Starting the day with one fully raw meal ensures that your day will be balanced and filled with as many whole foods as possible. You can find cheap fruit at your local grocery store on your way home from class.
I've found bananas for $0.50 per pound, cantaloupe for $1 per fruit, mangos for 2/$1 and kiwi for 4/$1. In addition, fruits like apples, cuties, grapes and sometimes even berries can be found in the cafeteria. I usually fill up a takeout container a couple days in advance and supplement my breakfasts from it.
Try to make it the one and only time you're in the cafeteria each day. I usually get whole wheat pasta with no sauce, and substitute in diced tomatoes or salsa I buy at the grocery store. I try to fill this up with vegetables, or grab a couple pieces on fruit on the side.
Stir-fry is another great option. I opt for a mix of rice noodles and brown rice, with a dash of teriyaki or gluten-free soy sauce and vegetables such as broccoli, sprouts, carrots, bell peppers, pineapple and water chestnuts.
If you're running low on food, run back to the dining hall and stick to outsourcing soup, veggies and potatoes. On occasion, I'll find vegetarian soup (black bean chili) from the dining hall, which I'll cook over brown rice. If I can't find soup, I'll go for a couple of sweet potatoes, or make my own whole wheat pasta back in the dorm.
As far as affordability goes, I picked up a mini rice steamer for $15 at Walmart. Instant brown rice runs at about $2 per box, beans (for the rice) can be found around $1 per can, whole wheat, gluten-free noodles are about $2 a box and frozen veggies can be found at $2 a bag.
These prices vary from store to store, but the point is that these foods are some of the cheapest in the supermarket. Other good staples to have on hand include organic oatmeal or granola, chia and flax seeds (which can be bought in individual bags for a fraction of the cost), powered peanut butter or PB2 (Thrive Market sells some for around $2 less than wholesale price) and unsweetened almond milk.
Living on a tight budget and just a microwave, a rice cooker and a meat-and-processed-food-filled cafeteria has been difficult. But as you can see, it can be affordable and completely doable, given the right attitude and the willingness to educate yourself on the opportunities, products and offers out there.