How to be a Healthy Plant-Based University Student
I remember the moment I decided to start a plant-based diet like it was yesterday. I was sitting in an elective lecture during the first year of my undergraduate degree and the professor launched a discussion into the use of antibiotics, hormones and steroids common in Canadian animal agriculture. I sat in my chair astounded that I was not familiar with the countless chemicals used in factory farming and began Googling all the questions that came to mind. Next thing I knew, the lecture was over and I was still stuck on the third slide. I went home that night, desperate to get my hands on all of the possible material on vegetarianism I could find. The more I read and watched, the more I realized there were reasons beyond hormone use to convert to a plant-based diet. As someone who is extremely concerned about the environment, I continued to be shocked by the environmental burden associated with animal agriculture. Fast-forward 7 years, and I have graduated from my Masters’ degree in Nutrition and will soon be commencing my PhD studies in Health & Medical Sciences. Some may call me an ‘eternal student,’ but over the years I have garnered some tips and tricks to get past the unique difficulties of being a plant-based student and I hope this article will help out those of you experiencing similar obstacles.
Healthy plant-based student grocery list
These first couple of pointers are applicable to maintaining a general sense of healthy eating as a university student and are relevant to everyone, not just those following a plant-based lifestyle. I’ve tried and tested many different ways of organizing my meals for the week and while everyone is different, for me I’ve found that it all comes down to my shopping list. There was a time that I used to make a menu for every day of the week and followed it religiously, but the reality of life shows us that things come up and sometimes you aren’t craving what you’ve planned. When making your shopping list for the week, it is important to be aware of what your schedule is.
My shopping list is drastically different when I have class all week versus when I am doing research work from home. For me, this list includes: fresh fruit for snacking and for breakfasts (apples, bananas, lemons, and one other seasonal option); lots of veggies (avocadoes, tomatoes, peppers, zucchini, broccoli, celery, cauliflower, greens) make sure to include at least one dark leafy green (kale/spinach) as they contain unique nutritional benefits; whole food proteins (tofu/tempeh/frozen edamame), non-dairy milk (oat is my go to) frozen berries and anything that I need to re-stock from my staple pantry items. I also sometimes grab something indulgent, like a frozen Daiya pizza or chick’n nuggets, especially if I know it is going to stop me from spending money on take out or if I have a particularly stressful or busy week coming up.
Healthy plant-based student pantry items
Similar to my shopping list, I keep an up to date list of pantry items that are almost empty or have run out. I try to do my best to avoid running out of these things because I rely on most of these ingredients for meals that I make on a regular basis – power bowls with a variety of whole grains, beans, seeds, and veggies are one of my go to’s. My staple pantry items which help to ensure a nutrient-rich plant-based diet include: oats, quinoa, brown rice, whole wheat pasta, chickpeas, black beans, diced tomatoes, lentils, baked beans, refried beans, coconut oil, olive oil, hemp hearts, chia seeds, flax seeds, shredded coconut, sunflower seeds, cashews, canned coconut milk, pepita seeds, dried dates, texturized vegetable protein (TVP), nutritional yeast (nooch), carrots, potatoes, sweet potatoes, onions, garlic and spices. Luckily, I am within walking distance to a massive market that is open Tuesday-Saturday, where fresh produce and bulk stores are aplenty. Almost all of the pantry items in this list I am able to fill from bulk stores, which reduces plastic consumption and buying directly from farmers prevents plastic consumption as well (bye plastic wrapped cucumbers!). Because I am on a student budget, there are a few things that I still buy in plastic, but I try to buy them in larger quantities. For example, a couple of weeks ago, I bought a massive container (3.78L) of olive oil because it was on sale and I have been refilling a smaller glass jar from the larger bottle, I am guessing this will last us for at least 3-4 months, and it was way more economical than buying a smaller jar every other week. Another example is brown rice, I buy it in 5kg bags because of how much many I save. Other than that, most items from the bulk store are actually cheaper than the same items at the grocery store on a per kilogram basis. Have a walk around a bulk store near you and compare the prices of things you buy on a regular basis, you’ll likely be surprised to find out how much money you could be saving and how much you can reduce your plastic consumption.
To make sure I don’t miss anything on my weekly shopping trip, I keep a note on my phone that I add to almost every day of the week as I run out of things. Reducing the number of visits to the grocery store reduces overbuying of convenience food and food waste. Focusing on whole foods such as tofu, tempeh and beans as protein sources, rather than the ultra-processed meat and cheese substitutes available, is not only student-budget friendly but also provides more nutrients to support optimal overall health.
Useful kitchen tools for plant-based student
There are definitely some kitchen tools that can make meal prepping and cooking on a student budget and schedule a lot easier! I already mentioned my love for my Crock-Pot because of the time it saves me during the evening, but a couple other of my favs include:
high-speed blender (i.e. Ninja or Vitamix) or food processor, an immersion blender, and an instant pot! If you have a high-speed blender, they can often replace the need for a food processor because they are powerful enough to blend all ingredients.
Often, making things at home ends up being more cost-effective than buying items premade in the store, and you know all the ingredients that are going into a recipe. Some things that I started making at home during university included: hummus, cashew cheese, nut butters, falafels, homemade burgers, “nice” cream (banana-based ice cream), Nutella-like spreads and plant-based queso! An immersion blender became my best friend after I got a terrible burn when trying to pour my hot soup into a blender to blend it up – they can be purchased for a fraction of the price of a normal blender and let you blend items right in the pot. Recently, I’ve also started using my immersion blender to make my morning or evening lattes so I can cut the cost of stopping at a café and also avoid having to buy a milk frother. I also use my immersion blender when making mac n cheese sauce! Instant pots are great time savers and if you forget to put something in your crock pot in the morning – these guys will have your back! With a variety of settings and functions, instant pots can be used for a wide range of plant-based recipes, some of my favourites include: soups, risotto, chowder, beans (buying dried in bulk is a huge $$$ saver), steamed veggies, yogurt, curries and lentil sloppy joes!
Credit to artists for photos: gluten-free-with-wendi-e.com, Chudomir Tsankov, Dreamstime.com