Experts offer advice for college students who want to go vegetarian

By Anida Bounyalith, Studio M staff //

College students tend to think becoming a vegetarian while still in school is impossible, but a vegetarian diet doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive. Below are some vegetarian life hacks your body, mind and pockets will appreciate:

1. Be aware.

Just diving into being a vegetarian can be stressful on the body, so do a step-by-step process. Ashley Boutsisomphone, 28-year-old health coach for Maxim Healthcare, a healthcare service provided for home health or medical problems in Franklin, Tennessee, said students should do their research before they jump into being a full-on vegetarian.  

“Students tend to eat just straight veggies when they decide to become vegetarian, but they should definitely research alternatives for iron and protein,” Boutsisomphone says. “Iron and protein are keys to keeping a healthy lifestyle. Once students know what foods to incorporate, it will be easy to adjust to.”

Allison Panyavong, a 20-year-old student majoring in nursing at Motlow Community State College, became a vegetarian three years ago.  

“It changed my life by changing my eating habit,” Panyavong says “I felt less congested and was more active.”

Jade Martin, a 21-year-old vegetarian of four years, agrees.  

“I feel healthier and happier,” Martin says. “I have learned more about our human bodies and diets.”

Martin suggested students should slowly ease into a vegetarian diet by cutting back meats and dairy in a well-timed manner. “It is healthier on your body that way,” stresses Martin.

2. Keep a realistic budget.

Everyone knows college students are broke, but vegetables are actually cheaper than meats.  Boutsisomphone noted a vegetarian’s budget should be “no more than $60 a week,” adding it’s  possible to survive off $100 a month for vegetarian groceries.  

In order to stay in this budget, new vegetarians should cut back on eating out and start cooking at home.

“Restricting yourself from eating out is difficult, but staying in budget will make you more successful in living a vegetarian lifestyle,” Panyavong says. 

3. Discover ideal vegetarian meals.

The key to vegetarian meals for students is to find something cheap, fast and easy to make.

Let’s start with breakfast: fortified cereal, a fruit bowl, oatmeal, an omelet, scrambled eggs or a simple smoothie will work.  For lunch, try a salad, vegetable sandwich, hummus sandwich or quinoa mixed in with some steamed vegetables.  

Panyavong said veggie burgers can make a great lunch. Black bean or vegetable patties are available in almost every grocery store.  

For dinner: a meatless spaghetti, vegetable stir-fry or tofu fried rice. If you have time, here are spontaneous vegetarian recipes that are suited for dinner.  

Little or no time to cook? There are frozen vegetarian meals. Here are recommendations.  

College students can snack in between meals. Boutsisomphone recommends “yogurts with various fruits, limited granola bars due to high sodium and Asian rice cakes” as snacks.

For more recipes, students can download vegetarian apps, including Green Kitchen, Healthy Recipes by SparkRecipes, Whole Foods Market Recipes, Epicurious Recipes and others.

Gabe Green, 25-year-old vegetarian and Tennessee Technological University alumni, explains “any of these apps will help anyone wanting to go vegetarian stay on track. If students are too lazy to look up recipes, the apps already have recipes listed. But for me, I use the Green Kitchen app. It is honestly handy.”

4. Buy vegetarian foods at cheap places.

Not every college student can afford Whole Foods. So what should they do? Shop local.

“Even just Kroger or Walmart is fine. They have a lot of organic and vegetarian foods now,” said Martin.  

“Try a local farmer’s market. If there is not a farmer’s market, shop at Aldi’s or Trader Joe’s,” adds Boutsisomphone.  

5. Get inspired.

“Looking at vegetarian food blogs could help you want to become vegetarian,” says Jesse Bradford, 26-year-old vegetarian and Middle Tennessee State University alumni.

Some example blogs are oh my veggies, love and lemons and vegetarian ventures.

Panyavong mentions, “I know so many people who became vegetarian after watching ‘What the Health,’ a Netflix documentary. It is pretty crazy how many people became one after that.”

“I love animals and I hate knowing they suffer from us humans, which is why I wanted to stop eating meat. Plus, I just wanted to see if I could stick through it and I did,” said Panyavong.

“I wanted to get leaner, so that is why I became vegetarian. I think it has helped with my health a lot, though,” said Green.

Says Martin: “You have to want to eat better.”

Anida Bounyalith is a student studying public relations at Middle Tennessee State University. 

Studio M, a project of the College of Media and Entertainment at MTSU, allows student journalists to be published statewide and nationwide. It’s made possible through grants and donations from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Tennessean and BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

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