Why College Is the Best Time To Go Plant-Based (Recipes + Tips Included)

Teenage girls enjoying healthy lunches together

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Written by: Kat Gal

You CAN eat healthy and plant-based while in college (moms, dads, grandparents, send this to your college kiddos NOW!).

You’re probably shaking your head in disbelief like I came from the Moon or something.

Trust me, I was in your shoes once – the shoes of a busy, broke college student. I had my fair share of experience in higher education earning my Bachelors, my Masters and a long-range of certificates. It’s not easy, I know.

You are busy. You don’t have time to cook. You work your butt off at low-paying jobs. College tuition, textbook costs, unexpected fees, rent and gas prices are killing you. There’s no way you can afford to buy good quality food right now, much less spend time working with it.

I have some great news for you… Eating healthy can actually be very simple – even when in college! A healthy, substantial diet mostly revolves around plant based whole-foods, including vegetables, fruits, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds (preferably organic, of course).

Plant based can mean going completely vegan (eating NO animal products at all) or including limited amounts of animal products in your diet, but still eating mostly plants.

About 8 million Americans eat a plant-based diet – and that number is still growing. Even celebrities, like Alicia Silverstone, Natalie Portman, Carrie Underwood, Ellen DeGeneres and Liam Hemsworth eat plant-based or completely vegan.

Within the plant-based realm, there’s a lot of room to stretch – you can experiment, play around and see what works best for your body (being vegan or vegetarian, keeping animal products to a minimum, eating raw and/or cooked foods, etc.). If you let it, the experience can actually be kinda fun!

Being in college is the BEST time to go plant-based – and here’s why:

#1. You’ll have a steady stream of energy without the steady stream of caffeine.

Junk food was labeled as junk for a reason. It is JUNK: empty calories filled with unnatural and disease-causing products.

A clean, plant-based diet full of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and beans includes all the necessary macronutrients your body needs, like protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. If you eat plant-based, you can easily meet your nutritional needs so that your body won’t be starving for energy.

Now, I’m not saying you have to drop your cup of Joe. All I’m saying is that you won’t be needing it in order to stay awake in class. I must say, though – without even planning on it, I stopped drinking coffee soon after I started drinking green juices.

#2. You’ll get sick less often.

Foods that are highly processed, high in cholesterol, high in saturated fat and high in unnatural sugar deplete the body of its nutrients. This weakens your immune system.

Many animal products – cheese, other dairy, meat  –  fit this description: they cause inflammation in your body, clog your arteries and are dangerous to your heart health. These foods in abundance may also destroy white blood cells, your body’s defense mechanisms.

On the other hand, unprocessed plant foods are abundant in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals, which help protect your immune system and reduce your susceptibility to sickness.

#3. You can eat plenty of food anytime you are hungry and still maintain your healthy weight.

Most processed foods and animal products are high in calories. They are also low in nutrients. As a result, your body will still be craving nutrients even when you’ve had enough food. These cravings can either lead you to overeating, binging, or constant restricting and calorie counting. You may go on a diet, lose and then gain weight, start yo-yo dieting and may end up obsessing about food and weight.

However, plant-based foods are full of the nutrients that your body needs. If you eat an adequate amount of calories (about 2,000 calories for females and 2,500 for males, as is recommended by the FDA, though this can change based on your activity level, health and body’s unique needs), your body will be meeting its nutrient needs and won’t be screaming for unnecessary food. Your body will naturally know when it needs food, so don’t worry – eat, just eat healthy.

Want proof? Vegans tend to weigh about 18% less than the average American, even while eating as much as they need to.

#4. You will actually save money on food and have more available for fun.

Your most expensive groceries are likely dairy products and meats. Chances are you spend a good amount on processed foods, boxed foods and junk food from the vending machines.

Some great vegan staples you need in college are some of the cheapest foods at the grocery store: brown rice, black beans, garbanzo beans, potatoes, simple greens, bananas, frozen fruits and veggies. Buy in bulk whenever you can. Shop in the produce aisle. Look for sales. Do these things and there’s a good chance your food bill will actually decrease.

If you are living in the dorms and heavily rely on the cafeteria food, your meal plan will still cost the same, but you won’t be spending money on late night snacks and such, because you will be feeling satisfied and more energized from your plant-based foods.

#5. You are allowed to eat carbs! You are even encouraged to do so.

Yes, you were told to stay away from carbs. Of course, if you are eating greasy pizzas, chocolate bars and chips all day, that is not healthy (though those are not high carb, they’re actually just very high in fat). But, if you eat a plant-based diet, your meals will be high or at least moderate in carbohydrates. It’s all about eating the RIGHT kind of carbs that are natural and give you lasting energy without  a crash.

Potatoes, rice and whole grains are full of complex carbs, giving you enough healthy fuel for the day. Fruits, though they are simple carbs, are also full of fiber that breaks down more slowly in your body than processed sugars without fiber. Fruits are also full of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants – no need to be afraid of them.

Though I’m talking about carbs here – as they seem to be the ultimate ‘fear food’ – protein and fat are also just as important components. If you eat a balanced plant-based, whole-foods, natural diet and pay attention to your body’s cues, you will get enough of all macronutrients, including carbs, fats and protein.  

At first it may be difficult, sticking to a plant-based diet, but it won’t last long. After only a few weeks, your body will soon adjust and start to crave the right foods.

How To Begin Going Plant-Based

  • Adjust Shopping Habits: Look at labels and search for the right ingredients. Shop bulk. Shop in the produce section or at the farmer’s market.
  • Smoothies: Blend some bananas, frozen berries and greens, like spinach, kale or romaine in your blender for an easy, cheap and energizing green smoothie. A travel blender can be easily stored in your dorm.
  • Green Juice: If you can, make green juices for even quicker natural energy.
  • Healthy Breakfast: Green smoothies, green juices, fruit salads, oatmeal or organic (or better yet – homemade!) granola are good breakfast options.
  • Healthy Lunch: Make a sandwich on some whole grain bread, make a wrap, perhaps a lettuce wrap, eat a vegetable soup, maybe some vegan chilli or, if you’re not that hungry, make another green smoothie.
  • The Right Kind Of Snacks: Carry some fruits, veggie sticks, hummus, trail mix, nuts, seeds and granola. Sip on some green juices or smoothies.
  • Healthy Dinner: Your options are endless: salads, soups, stir-fries, rice dishes, vegan pasta, vegan pizza (without cheese or with vegan cheese), potatoes or stews.
  • Sustain Energy: Cook up some whole grains, vegetables, lentils or chickpeas with a big salad for a warming, filling meal to have sustained energy.
  • Keep Dessert: Make banana ice cream, eat some fruits, have a few dates, eat a raw vegan bliss ball or have a piece of dark chocolate.

Here are some RECIPES to help give you a kickstart! Give some or all of them a try and let us know how it goes! Do you have any other tips on how you can eat better during college? Please share with us in the comments below!

Easy Breakfast Smoothie
 
You can use any greens you’d like. You can replace your banana with a mango. You can add avocado if you are craving some fats. You can add apples or cucumber to make it more light. Feel free to add some hemps seeds, flax seeds, chia seeds, green powders or raw vegan protein powder to your smoothie. Get creative. Play around.
Ingredients
  • 1 banana
  • 5 -8 romaine leaves (or greens of your choice)
  • Juice of one lemon
  • ½ cup of frozen berries of your choice
  • 1 cup of water or coconut water
Instructions
  1. Place it all in a blender and blend together until smooth.
Notes
Image source: http://www.culinarycolleen.com/green-smoothie-beginners/

Easy Lunch Salad
 
Amounts are not provided on purpose. Listen to your appetite. You can add other vegetables or remove some. Try different dressing. Add your salad in a pita pocket, tortilla, or lettuce wrap. Play around.
Ingredients
  • Organic mixed greens
  • Diced cucumbers
  • Sliced bell peppers
  • Shredded carrots
  • Broccoli florets
  • Diced beets
  • Sprouts
  • Any other vegetables you want to add
  • Hemp seeds (or any other seeds or nuts)
  • Olives (optional)
  • Dressing Ingredients:
  • ¼ cup Tahini
  • 2 tbsp lemon juice
  • Salt, pepper to taste
  • Water if desired
Instructions
  1. Mix all the veggies and seeds.
  2. Blend all dressing ingredients well.
  3. Add it to the salad and mix well.
Notes
Image source: http://www.101cookbooks.com/archives/an-ideal-lunch-salad-recipe.html

Easy Roasted Veggies
 
You can serve it over pasta, pseudo grains, potatoes, or mashed potatoes as well. You can add a side salad if you’d like. You can vary your vegetables by adding or replacing some. Asparagus, brussel sprouts, zucchini, squash and potatoes are all excellent options. This recipe is for 3 - 4 servings. You can invite your friends over, freeze it or save it for lunch or dinner for the next days. Cook once, eat twice (or 3 - 4 times!).
Ingredients
  • 1 cup of brown or basmati rice (optional)
  • 1 tsp of coconut oil or coconut oil spray
  • ½ lbs broccoli florets
  • ¼ lbs cauliflower florets
  • ¼ lbs carrots, sliced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • ½ onion, sliced
  • 1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • Salt, pepper, oregano, rosemary, or any other spice to taste
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 450F.
  2. If adding rice to your meal, cook rice according to directions.
  3. Slice and cut veggies.
  4. Add oil or lightly spray your vegetables, then toss all ingredients (except for the rice).
  5. Pour it into a large baking pan.
  6. Spread evenly.
  7. Bake for 30 minutes. Stir 2-3 time while baking.
  8. Serve them as they are or over rice, if desired.
Notes
Image source: http://oregon.providence.org/our-services/p/providence-heart-healthy-living-guide/forms-and-information/recipe-easy-mix-and-match-roasted-vegetables/

 

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Kat Gal

Kat Gal

Kat Gál is a multi-passionate writer, world traveler, nomad, runner, and cat-person. She is a lifelong learner who lives outside of her comfort zones stretching her boundaries and discovering beauty around the world. She is a Certified Holistic Health and Life Coach who encourages others to embrace their unique authentic selves, follow their heart and find their own version of freedom in life.
Kat Gal
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