warning Hi, we've moved to USCANNENBERGMEDIA.COM. Visit us there!

Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Surviving Dining Halls: A Vegetarian’s Guide

Sara Lev |
October 1, 2014 | 6:07 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Choosing what to eat in the dining hall can be overwhelming. (@Rocepta/Instagram)
Choosing what to eat in the dining hall can be overwhelming. (@Rocepta/Instagram)

The hamburgers, the chicken, the bacon -  the horror! Not to mention the temptation of junk food: pizza, french fries, ice cream and cake…  How’s a health-conscious (okay, semi-health conscious) vegetarian to survive?

We vegetarians start off bold and confident. But after a few weeks, the carrot sticks, tofu cubes and veggie burgers become mundane, and you realize anything fried just tastes better. That’s when danger sets in, and the healthy eyes begin to wander. 

Here’s a little lesson in science. Patrice Barber, a registered dietician at the USC Engemann Health Center, says that the nutrients vegetarians have to focus on are protein, iron, vitamin b12, and zinc, because they typically derive from animal origins.

Barber says that being a vegetarian can be very healthy, if done right. She notes that vegetarians, “sometimes make pizza, fries, and coke a meal.” Quick, tasty, convenient  - but unhealthy. The problem with this menu is that these foods are not nutrient dense, and are full of saturated fats, sodium, and sugar. The extra calories go straight to that freshman fifteen fund collecting in your hips and thighs... You sneaky calories.  

READ ALSO: Stay Healthy And Happy In College: Nutrition Tips

So what’s a vegetarian to do?

Finding a meatless protein is often a problem for vegetarians. Good sources of complete proteins, such as tofu, quinoa, and tempeh may not be readily available, and cheese, while a good source of protein, is high in saturated fat. Nuts are a good protein-filled snack, but let’s be honest here, nuts taste way better in Rocky Road ice cream.

Aside from soy, there are other protein options for vegetarians. There are incomplete proteins, which are foods that contain certain amino acids but that are missing others. These foods can be paired with another food group to form a complete, whole protein. For example, beans, eaten with grains, such as rice, form a complete protein. Tacos and burritos, anyone?

But regardless of whether you’re a carnivore or vegetarian, you should load up on fruits and vegetables, since they are nutrient dense and full of fiber (which keeps you fuller for longer). No wonder the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommends that your plate be 50% fruits and vegetables, 25% protein and 25% grains. 

Couple all of these important details on how to live a healthy vegetarian life with the fact that dining halls have a very finite amount of options, and you have an abundance of issues. Meals become monotonous, leading to the same boring trip to the same boring salad bar to make yourself the same boring salad, and ultimately being tempted by the abundance of unhealthy foods.

If you're looking to escape the mundane - and unhealthy - vegetarian dining hall life though, look no further. Here is my advice for the perplexed vegetarian, as well as for anyone else looking for healthy alternatives.

Breakfast: 

1. Oatmeal with fruit, and cinnamon (just go easy on the brown sugar and maple syrup).

Oatmeal with fruit, and cinnamon. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
Oatmeal with fruit, and cinnamon. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)

Oatmeal doesn’t have much protein, but it has a good amount of fiber, which helps with the digestive tract and keeps you feeling full... because we all know that there is nothing more distracting than a growling stomach in the middle of lecture. 

The key to oatmeal: get creative with your oatmeal toppings! Most college campuses offer both fresh and canned fruit. Peaches are my topping of choice, but they are quite a rarity in college. If you're not a fan of peaches, try slicing some bananas and adding peanut butter for extra flavor, and of course, an extra protein kick. Or, try adding some mandarin oranges or other canned fruit to give your oatmeal some vitamin packed sweetness.   

2. Eggs (or egg whites) with tomatoes, whole wheat toast, and fruit.

Eggs with tomatoes, whole wheat toast, and fruit. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
Eggs with tomatoes, whole wheat toast, and fruit. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
Protein, vitamins and fiber – the trifecta. You’ll cruise till lunch, satisfied and alert.

Some colleges have omelet bars, which would be another great alternative. An omelet with mushrooms, tomato, cheese, and spinach would make a nutrient dense, filling meal. Not to mention, in addition to the protein from the eggs and cheese, spinach provides iron, which is a nutrient that vegetarians normally lack.

Also, try asking for an egg-white omelet, as egg yolks have high levels of cholesterol, a fat that can build up in arteries. 

Lunch: 

1. “Pad Thai” style tofu, rice and beans, peas, and cucumbers. 

“Pad Thai” style tofu, rice and beans, peas, and cucumbers. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
“Pad Thai” style tofu, rice and beans, peas, and cucumbers. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)

"Pad Thai" is just an example of a tofu dish that can be paired with this meal. See what your dining hall is serving for vegetarians and mix it up. Tofu, tempeh, or any soy protein would be a welcome addition to this meal. 

In addition to the soy protein, beans and rice come together to form a complete protein. Alone, beans do not make a whole protein; but,when put together with rice, a complete protein is made-- making this lunch a satisfying meal. Beans and peas have a high fiber content, which stabilize blood sugar levels, leading to a lasting feeling of satiety. The protein and the fiber from this lunch should keep you full for those back-to-back classes. 

2. DIY Salad

A mixed green salad with hard boiled egg whites, grated carrots, parmesan cheese, chickpeas, craisins, and sunflower seeds, with an olive oil and balsamic dressing. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
A mixed green salad with hard boiled egg whites, grated carrots, parmesan cheese, chickpeas, craisins, and sunflower seeds, with an olive oil and balsamic dressing. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
A mixed green salad is anything but drab with the right toppings. My personal choices include hard boiled egg whites, grated carrots, parmesan cheese, chickpeas, craisins, and sunflower seeds, with an olive oil and balsamic dressing. Adding olive oil and sunflower seeds gives you those healthy omega three fats.

Salads often have a bad rap. Bland, unsatisfying, boring. When asked about how vegetarians can feel satisfied and full after a meal from the salad bar, Barber suggests, "adding a dollop of cottage cheese, or other hard cheeses, hardboiled eggs, or beans" to your salad. Or, “If there is a veggie burger, try chopping it up and putting it on top of your salad." But beware of the iceberg lettuce, which is made up of mostly water and sugar. Spinach or mixed greens are the better choice because they are rich with assorted vitamins

Dinner:

1. Chickpea stew with rice and a salad with spinach, peas, tofu, beets, corn, and mandarin oranges.

Chickpea stew with rice and a salad with spinach, peas, tofu, beets, corn, and mandarin oranges. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
Chickpea stew with rice and a salad with spinach, peas, tofu, beets, corn, and mandarin oranges. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)

When put together, legumes and grains, (chickpeas and rice) is another way you can create a complete protein. Adding salad to your plate is an even bigger bonus, giving you essential vitamins as well as fiber.

In order to liven up my salad, I use mandarin oranges and beets; but, there are various other ways to add dimension to your salad.

Try scoping out the dining hall and seeing all of your options, even in places that seem unlikely to have salad toppings. Check out the sandwich bar--they often offer pesto, which could make a great dressing (in moderation, of course). Or, try the main hot food bar, as roasted vegetables make a delicious addition to a salad. Even more unexpected, try the dessert bar. If there is fruit there, like strawberries, making a strawberry, balsamic, and spinach salad would be a crafty and tasty feat.  

Chili glazed tofu and steamed vegetables with a spinach, cucumber, chickpea and feta salad. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)
Chili glazed tofu and steamed vegetables with a spinach, cucumber, chickpea and feta salad. (Sara Lev/Neon Tommy)

2. Chili glazed tofu and steamed vegetables with a spinach, cucumber, chickpea, and feta salad. 

A recurring theme – protein, vitamins, and fiber. The tofu and cheese provide protein, the spinach and chickpeas provide iron, and the assorted vegetables provide essential vitamins and minerals. This dinner will certainly give you plenty of fuel for late night studying, without the sugar crash.

The Bottom Line:

Whether or not you are a vegetarian, eating healthy when tempted with all the choices in the cafeteria can be overwhelming. However, if one is armed with a little knowledge and a creative game plan, you can feel good about what you eat - and reward yourself with the occasional pizza, fries and cupcakes!

Reach Staff Reporter Sara Lev here



 

Buzz

Craig Gillespie directed this true story about "the most daring rescue mission in the history of the U.S. Coast Guard.”

Watch USC Annenberg Media's live State of the Union recap and analysis here.

 
ntrandomness