Being Vegan in College: 5 Steps to Success

by Alena
Sep 5, 2016
person in sneakers and jeans holding a black backpack while standing on the street

Congrats, you’ve made it to college! The past years of school have probably not been easy and now begins a new chapter in your life – maybe, it has already begun. A lot of things will get easier now because you get to decide for yourself how you want to spend your day, your money, and your energy. There are many new things to explore now that you’re out of your parents’ house, and that comes with some responsibility too.

Let’s take a look at how you can make this time count and how to find your path in life that feels really awesome to you. Over the past few years, the number of vegans has been rising. Especially well-educated people are making the connection – so far, there are about 8 million Americans who eat a vegan or plant-based diet.


Celebrities who follow this lifestyle and make veganism even trendier include Liam Hemsworth, Casey Affleck, Ellen Degeneres, Ariana Grande, Travis Barker and Miley Cyrus. So being vegan in college might be the perfect time and place - it's on the rise, it's cheap, and you're getting so much out of it. Let me explain.

Maybe you want to prevent or reverse the freshman 15 since it’s all too easy to just binge out on all of the pizza, donuts, and other junk food that’s going to be all around you! So if you want to have a lean body year-round, steady concentration throughout the day and get sick less often – a healthy plant-based diet is the best thing you could do! And it’s going to be a breeze once you look behind the curtains and make the ethical connection to your food choices.

​Our favorite part of this diet is that you can literally eat all of the delicious carbohydrates you want! They give you amazing satiety and brain power for long lectures as well as a great mood whenever you have to put up with annoying people or assignments.

And if you take it up a notch and keep your food as whole and unprocessed as possible, you greatly reduce your chance of getting sick and sluggish because you’re fueled with lots of antioxidants and vitamins – they both help protect your immune system and reduce your susceptibility to sickness.

Not only that, whole plant foods have a very low calorie density which means you can stuff your face while not gaining any weight! Vegans tend to weigh about 18% less than the average American while eating as much as they want to. Getting enough protein and healthy fat is pretty easy too – beans and peanut butter are amongst the cheapest and most filling foods out there. So, are you excited yet and ready to take on this challenge? 

5 Tips for Being Vegan in College

There are some ways of making it easier to stick to a fully plant-based diet during your time in college. Some of the following tips might make more sense in your current situation than others, so simply pick out what works for you.

1. Check how vegan-friendly your college is

delicious vegan food

Did you know that peta2 came up with a ranking or list on how vegan-friendly all of the colleges in the US are? That’s especially helpful if you haven’t already chosen where you will be taking your classes and have some time to take these possibilities into account. There is also a good chance that your college will have a vegan club - with the rising number of vegans, it’s very likely there are a few more where you are. If that’s not the case, how about starting one yourself?

It’s always so much easier to do this together with others and get their support. You can check out online groups too (try Facebook!) and go over to Happy Cow to find vegan-friendly places close to your college. If you'd like to go to one of the 30 most common restaurant and fast food places, you can find our list of their vegan options here. Many dining halls have a special section for students with food allergies – this is where you’ll find dairy-free options like soy milk or almond milk.

2. Get educated and prepared

being vegan in college: doing research

Since you will be explaining the basics of veganism to a bunch of people, you better get your reading and taking notes on. Learn what should and should not be in your food, how to eat a well-rounded vegan diet, and what to tell people who ask one or 10 of the heard-it-all-before questions about veganism. A great place to start is by watching some documentaries on Netflix (maybe together with your roomie?) like Forks Over Knives, Cowspiracy, Fat Sick and Nearly Dead 1&2 or Engine 2 Diet.

There are also great books on this subject like The Starch Solution, How Not to Die, and Becoming Vegan. Another good option is to go online and get some vegan flyers or booklets from organizations like Vegan Outreach that you can use as a cheat sheet and even hand out at your college.

What we personally found very useful when transitioning to a vegan diet and lifestyle was watching how other people have done it. Just go over to YouTube and check out some of the lovely vegans who are attending college as well - they have some awesome tips on what to eat, how to manage everything and make some great connections. A wonderful example is this video:

One thing is for sure, though: the situation will come up where you’re in the dining hall with a bunch of people, eating different foods than they do – so questions will arise. If those around you seem legitimately interested in the topic of healthy eating and veganism, grab this amazing chance and give them some insight, telling them how good you feel and how it’s so easy and worth it (only if that’s the case for you of course!). If you don’t feel like giving a huge speech, tell those who are interested that you will be talking to them later in a private conversation.

Remember, college is about spending time with friends too, so don’t make it all about the food and enjoy their company rather than criticizing them for not being vegan. This also gives you the chance to just relax and enjoy your food mindfully. 

3. Talk to the dining hall staff

dining hall staff

Becoming friends with them might be an overstatement, but being nice to the people who organize the food stuff is a very good idea. Now that you've educated yourself and learned about all the different foods that you can eat as a vegan, let the staff know about your specific needs – they are usually very keen to make sure every student gets their dietary needs met somehow.

You can either share some of your favorite vegan recipes/cookbooks so they know what you’re talking about or just come up with some ideas for inexpensive and easy-to-prepare vegan staples, such as oatmeal, potatoes, and plain brown rice; then suggest some side dishes like leafy greens, soups, steamed veggies, fresh fruit, and nuts or seeds. This way, everyone has the choice to eat healthier foods! What you can also do is discussing your commitment to eating a healthy vegan diet with the director of your college’s dining services in order to seal the deal.

4. Choose the right meals/meal plan

plate of delicious vegan food

If you have the option, choose a flexible meal plan that allows you to use the leftover cash value to buy your own food from the store (below are some ideas on what to get there!). If you have the chance, check every week’s menu online beforehand and ask for some dishes to be combined for you.

For example, if you see a meaty dish with grilled vegetables and some starch, ask if you can only have these 2 items separately without the meat (before they combine it on a plate!). This makes it very convenient for everyone. As a general rule of thumb, fill your plate with delicious starches, add some goodness from the salad bar and top it off with your plant-based protein like beans, lentils, tofu, nuts and seeds.

The more you get the hang of navigating the dining hall, the more options you’ll find everywhere. Make sure to always fill up on whole plant foods whenever available! This gives you great fuel and you don’t have to constantly rely on snack foods that are more expensive and usually a little bit unhealthier.

Still, it’s important to keep some snacks with you like food bars, trail mix, or fruit (that you can get for free in the dining hall!). Take them with you everywhere you go, put one in every bag, purse and jacket. It’s important to have enough energy throughout the day so you don’t fall short of concentration and focus! It also prevents you from grabbing some vending machine junk food and helps you make better choices.

5. Shop smart

smart shopping of vegan foods

Whenever you’re on a tight budget, make sure you only purchase what you need by planning ahead of time. When you get the chance, buy your food in bulk and get seasonal produce. Check out our in-depth post on eating a healthy vegan diet on a budget here!

If you’re looking for some special vegan items that you can’t find in any stores around you, consider ordering them online at shops like Vegan EssentialsThrive Market, Vegan Cuts or Amazon! Especially if you’re new to veganism, get some transition foods that are more on the processed side in order to deal with unhealthy or non-vegan cravings.

This can be either vegan cookies and veggie sausages or you can check out a list of accidentally vegan foods which are the least expensive options – think Oreos and Ritz Crackers. Be sure to double check the ingredients though and remember to take your Vitamin B12 too!

Foods to keep in your room

  • Nutritional yeast
  • Bread
  • Fruit
  • Dried Fruit
  • Peanut Butter
  • Larabars
  • Clif Bars
  • Wheat Thins
  • Shredded Wheat
  • Soy Milk
  • Oatmeal
  • Tomato Soup
  • Tofu
  • Veggie Chili
  • Canned Beans
  • Guacamole
  • Avocado
  • Hummus
  • Crackers
  • Dark chocolate
  • All of these work well even if you don’t have any kitchen tools in your room.

    Speaking of which: think about investing in some. Maybe a mini fridge, microwave, rice cooker, blender, or toaster oven; this vastly increases your options and you can make delicious goodness like these:

    You can also check out the dorm kitchen – since barely anyone uses it, you’ll have it to yourself. It can be fun to learn how to cook a few simple meals that you can just rotate and adjust to your taste preferences. You can really save a lot of money by cooking your own simple meals, following the recipes above.

    One last option would be considering moving off-campus or into an on-campus apartment with a full kitchen, which would basically give you the same (if not more) benefits.

    In a nutshell...

    Just by talking to some people about your dietary choices and by learning some vegan 101, you will find lots of delicious foods in your dining hall and surrounding shops. We're talking food staples that everyone, including omnivores, eat every day.

    Overall, being vegan in college is a great experience and is totally manageable! You are very likely to save some money and be well-energized for all the studying and going out you'll have to do.

    Whatever you decide to do and however you want to tackle this, don’t forget to have fun and enjoy this wonderful time. Explore the world around you, get to know lots of people, treat yourself and get enough fuel so you’ll get through your classes and assignments nice and smoothly!

    Do you want to stick to a vegan lifestyle as a college student? Let us know in the comments if we forgot to mention any good tips and how you manage to eat great plant-based food while going to college.

    Full transparency: We’re part of the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and this post contains affiliate links that earn us a small commission at no additional cost for you. None of our work is sponsored and we only recommend products we personally use and love, or think our readers will find useful, so this is a simple way of getting compensated for the time and love we put into this website.

    about alena.

    Alena has been eating a plant-based diet for 6 years and is passionate about sharing her learnings in the fields of nutrition, wellbeing, and vegan ethics. She is the co-creator of nutriciously and loves music, reading, nature, traveling, yoga & good food. Alena received training in the fields of nutrition, music therapy, and social work.

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